Gingrich Vows To Press On After Florida Primary

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has promised his supporters that his campaign will go on to the Republican party's convention. The Florida primary is Tuesday, and Mitt Romney is expected to collect all the delegates in that nominating contest.

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Now yesterday, Newt Gingrich held rallies in five big Florida media markets, and urged conservatives to mount a grassroots effort to prove the pollsters, and what he called the establishment, wrong.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Newt Gingrich's public schedule yesterday began with what was billed as a grassroots rally in Jacksonville, from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. But at the scheduled start time, only a handful of people had shown up.

Sixty-eight-year-old Martha Stephens was wearing her straw gardening hat, with a wide brim and a big, Newt 2012 sticker. A lanyard around her neck reads: Elvis lives.

We're here early. I'm with the press. Can I get a few words with you?

MARTHA STEPHENS: I'm here for Newt. I support him. He's the best man for the job.

GONYEA: It was a low-key start to a full day, and a crucial one for Newt Gingrich. Before long, the crowd in the hotel ballroom would number about 100, plus reporters. Shortly before 9, the candidate arrived.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: ...Calista and Newt Gingrich.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Joining them was a special guest who would campaign with Gingrich all day yesterday - Michael Reagan, the conservative talk show host who is a son of President Reagan.

MICHAEL REAGAN: I get asked, you know, quite a bit, why are you, you know, on Newt's team? And very simply, I think I owe it to him because of what he's done for the Republican Party over the years.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: In campaign speeches, Gingrich often portrays himself as one who was right there, working closely with the Reagan White House in the fight against big government. The Romney campaign says that's a huge exaggeration - which brings us back to yesterday's event.

NEWT GINGRICH: Has there been - this question raised by the establishment, of whether or not I was really, in any way, active with Ronald Reagan. And I figured if his son was prepared to campaign with me, for any person with an open mind, that should settle that issue - totally - once and for all.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: After Jacksonville came a stop in the Florida panhandle and Pensacola. Gingrich kept hitting Mitt Romney hard. At one point, someone in the crowd yelled out, No-bama.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: No-bama!

GINGRICH: Well...

(SOUNDBITE OF VARIOUS PEOPLE SHOUTING)

GINGRICH: Let me, uh - actually, no - No-bama and No-Romney is about the same.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER, CHEERS)

GONYEA: Next up: Tampa, another grassroots rally, and another special guest.

HERMAN CAIN: Ah, shucky ducky!

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

GONYEA: Former candidate Herman Cain was there to promote his endorsement of Gingrich - in classic Herman Cain style.

CAIN: You know, if I didn't know better, one could get the impression that you all like me.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS, LAUGHTER)

CAIN: But even better, I like Newt Gingrich for president of the United States.

GONYEA: Gingrich flew on to Fort Myers, and then to Orlando. None of the crowds all day was huge; each numbered in the low hundreds. But they were devoted to their candidate, and unphased by polls showing him far behind. Here's 73-year-old Warren Wubker(ph), who was awaiting Gingrich's arrival at the Orlando rally last night.

WARREN WUBKER: It might be a tough day and on the other hand, it might be a surprise. It isn't over until it's over - Newt has proved that several times.

GONYEA: Gingrich arrived, delivered his remarks, and ended with a pledge to continue his campaign no matter today's outcome.

GINGRICH: We are going to go all the way to the convention, and we are going to win in Tampa, and we are going to be the nominee, with your help, of the Republican Party.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS, APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Newt Gingrich, wrapping up his final day on the stump, on the eve of today's Florida primary, much as he has done throughout his campaign - defying the pundits and polls, and predicting victory.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Orlando.

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