LAS VEGAS (AP) — Newt Gingrich is wooing NASCAR voters.
As he charts a possible course to the Republican nomination, aides say Gingrich will paint frontrunner Mitt Romney as the candidate of the PGA golf tour while the former House speaker pursues the blue collar mantle of Dale Earnhardt.
It’s a strategy that exploits the class warfare Gingrich professes to oppose. Still, it could pay dividends once the GOP race again swings South. Gingrich sees delegate-rich Texas as a firewall in April. But he must slog through more than 30 contests before that.
“Our commitment is to seek to find a series of victories which would end at the Texas primary, which will leave us about at parity with Gov. Romney,” Gingrich said at a press conference in Las Vegas following caucus results which showed him placing a distant second behind Mitt Romney.
It won’t be easy. Coming off sizable wins in Florida and Nevada, Romney is again the undisputed frontrunner in the Republican race, having brushed aside the threat posed by Gingrich when he won South Carolina on Jan. 21. Romney has momentum, money and a healthy lead in pledged delegates.
And before the 10-state battle on March 6 known as Super Tuesday, the Republican race will move through several more states seen as favorable to Romney, such as his old home state of Michigan.
Still, those who’ve followed Gingrich’s career know he’s at his strongest as an insurgent — which is precisely where he now finds himself.
In Las Vegas, Gingrich has been making the case to donors that he can come back yet again. He’s been cloistered with top advisers, including his pollster, in a campaign war room to map out the coming months. The mandate is to keep the delegate count close in states with the kind of working class voter they are targeting.
For now, Gingrich is giving a brief nod to states holding votes this month while looking forward to Super Tuesday states and beyond.
Gingrich will touch down briefly in Colorado and Minnesota — which both hold contests on Tuesday — before heading to a state that holds more promise for the former House speaker: Ohio. Gingrich is hopeful his populist attacks on Romney will resonate with the Rust Belt’s blue collar voters. Mindful that he was pummeled in Florida, where he arrived after a significant amount of early voting had taken place, Gingrich is launching a two-day bus tour in Ohio on Tuesday and Wednesday hoping to grab headlines as early voters make up their minds.
Gingrich aides also believe Arizona, where voters will cast ballots Feb. 28, could be fertile ground for Gingrich who has appeal with Hispanic voters due to an immigration policy that seeks to straddle the line between tough and compassionate. Gingrich wants to control the border but he’s also said that the millions of illegal immigrants in the country for decades should not automatically be deported and instead be provided a path to stay.
Still, even as the former Georgia congressman casts himself as a national candidate, noting that he’ll head to California next week, it is the South — with its evangelicals and social conservatives — that could prove pivotal.
“We want to get to Georgia, to Alabama, to Tennessee. We want to get to Texas,” Gingrich said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
He failed to mention Virginia, the state he now calls home, and where he failed to qualify to get on the ballot. The error is costly. It means he won’t be eligible for any of the state’s 46 delegates.
Gingrich is expected to fare well in Georgia, the state he represented in Congress for two decades and where he’s credited with building the Republican party from the ground up.
And he plans to compete hard in Texas, with its coveted 155 delegates. He’ll likely have help from his onetime rival Rick Perry, the Texas governor who dropped out of the race last month and threw his support behind Gingrich calling him a conservative visionary.
Moving forward, Gingrich said he will continue to pound away at the “big contrasts” with Romney.
“I am pretty comfortable that when you come down to it and go state to state to state, a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase, George Soros-approved candidate of the establishment probably is not going to do very well,” he said.
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