The media has largely ignored Newt Gingrinch's presidential campaign this month, unless you count headlines generated when a penguin bit his finger at a St. Louis zoo stop.
But Gingrich is still campaigning for president, even though he is out of money and lagging far back in the polls. He made stops in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New York ahead of primaries there today.
Gingrich turned up at the New York state Republican dinner in Manhattan last week, and it was a little awkward.
“I’d like to introduce our first speaker. A man who’s played a major role in our presidential selection process...”
Those were the carefully chosen words of New York Republican Party chairman Ed Cox, as he brought Gingrich to the stage. Cox had already endorsed Romney for president.
But Gingrich played to the crowd of party insiders.
“I don’t want any of you to be confused about this, and I don’t want the media to be confused,” he said as he wrapped up his remarks. “I’ve stayed in the race to articulate big themes and big issues.”
He did not criticize Romney, nor ask for any votes. And he added that he’ll campaign for Romney if he’s the nominee.
“The fact is we are dedicated to a unified Republican Party, winning the presidency on behalf of America’s future,” he said, drawing his most sustained applause of the night.
At a rally in Buffalo New York, though, Gingrich had a different message.
“Gov. Romney’s ahead, but he is only about halfway to the number he needs for the nomination,” Gingrich told the crowd. “He can raise a lot more money than I can but we have a lot more people than he has.”
It's not clear which people Gingrich is talking about, given that the former Speaker has only won two primaries.
Gingrich's host in Buffalo was Carl Paladino, and even he admitted Gingrich’s shot at the nomination are slim to none.
“Miracles have happened,” Paladino said with a laugh. “But for sure Romney is ahead.”
He said he wants to help Gingrich stand up to the party powers.
"Nationally, the big money people are driving us to Romney and I think it's a big mistake,” he said.
Gingrich is the no-money candidate at this point. At the end of February, Gingrich reported about as much in debt as he had in cash. A month later, those debts had tripled to $4.3 million, with less than one and a quarter million in the bank.
Gingrich acknowledges his money troubles — to a point.
“We’re doing what any business does when it runs into a shortfall. We've cut expenses and we're begun paying off debt and we're working our way back to balance,” he told reporters in Buffalo. “But I would also say as the only Speaker of the House in your lifetime to balance the budget for four straight years, I think my record on balancing the public budget is pretty unchallengeable."
There is a still a Gingrich campaign with money: the Super PAC backing him, Winning Our Future. It pulled in another $5 million last month from the wife of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Together, the couple has contributed $20 million.
Winning our Future's senior advisor Rick Tyler is a long-time Gingrich associate. He wouldn't say how Winning our Future will spend its remaining funds, but he said the group will keep pressing Romney from the right.
"I think they would like nothing more than to quickly hit the reset button, shake up the etch-a-sketch and start to move toward the center,” Tyler said. “We don't want him to move to the right. We want him to represent the conservative values of a conservative party, and I think the majority of Republicans would agree with that."
But it's Gingrich that is wearing out some conservatives. Last week, a group called the Taxpayers Protection Alliance called for Gingrich to give up his taxpayer-funded Secret Service protection. The Secret Service wouldn't comment on protection costs, but the agency's director told Congress in 2008 that it averaged around $38,000 a day per candidate.
“It’s becoming obvious to everybody that this campaign is winding down,” Taxpayers Protection Alliance David Williams said. “He’s talked about being a fiscal conservative in the past. So, now is the time for him to put his mouth where our money is, and stop the secret service protection.”
That call came a week after Gingrich traded shots with Fox News, where he was a paid contributor before the campaign. After Gingrich claimed CNN had been “less biased” in its coverage, Fox News chief Roger Ailes reportedly told a group of journalism students that Gingrich was just trying to get in good with the network because he knew he wasn’t coming back to Fox.
This, of course, isn't the first time Gingrich has found himself alienated from former allies.
Historian Steven Gillon, author of The Pact, a book about Gingrich’s time in the House, said all this is a lot like the months before Gingrich resigned as Speaker.
And in contrast to Rick Santorum, who got out of the race with his enhanced reputation intact, Gillon said Gingrich may be damaging his political brand.
“It’s his future clients, and his ability to make money and stay relevant and stay connected and to be someone who can still get speaker’s fees,” Gillon said. “That’s what’s being threatened if he stays in the race.”
Gingrich told NBC News on Monday that he’ll take a “deep look” at his campaign after the votes are counted in today’s primaries. But he might not have much to fall back on. Many of his old projects have floundered during the campaign. One of them, the Center for Health Transformation, a health policy think tank Gingrich founded, filed for bankruptcy earlier this month.