On the heels of his loss in Florida, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is campaigning in the fifth state to weigh in on the GOP presidential nomination race – Nevada. And though he's vowed to stay in the race and fight front-runner former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney all the way to the party convention, such an effort will not be easy, experts say.
In the week following Nevada's caucus on February 4, are caucuses in Colorado, Minnesota, and Maine, as well as a primary in Missouri. On the final day of the month are primaries in Arizona and Michigan and on March 3 in Washington State. March 6 is known as 'Super Tuesday' when 10 states hold contests that day.
"It's an interesting path forward, because I think he's going to look for Super Tuesday states in theSouth to try to bolster him," says Ron Bonjean, a GOP political consultant in Washington, D.C. "But the month of February is going to be tough on the Gingrich campaign because of states like Nevada and Michigan, which will play absolutely well for Romney and continue the Romney momentum and storyline that he is the most viable candidate for president."
Nevada is fertile ground for Romney based on the high percentage of voters there who are Mormons like Romney. He also grew up in Michigan where his father served as governor. But even after the votes on Super Tuesday are tallied, more than half of the GOP delegates - the people who cast votes for the nominee at the convention - will still be at large. That's because populus states such as California, New Jersey, New York, and Texas have later primaries than the early states of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. That means if Gingrich can endure the stretch between now and Super Tuesday he still has a fighting chance.
"Gingrich is going to have to figure out a way to stay alive during this month and set up fundraising an infrastructure and organization in these states," Bonjean says." And while Romney is organized in the primary states, it's unclear whether Gingrich is ready to do this and if he'll be on the ballot in some of these states."
In fact, Gingrich's campaign already failed to get his name on the ballot in Virginia.
Danny Hayes, a political science professor at American University, also says Gingrich's biggest struggle will be to continue attracting donors as the GOP establishment begins to coalesce around Romney.
"For Gingrich probably the biggest struggle he is going to have is to keep paying the bills," he says. "And if he can do that then he'll probably carry on but if the money starts to dry up I think it's going to be hard for him to stay in the race, despite his pronouncement to go all the way to the convention."
But there's also little incentive for Gingrich to drop out, says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
"This is his last race, his last hurrah. He's been dissed by a large majority of the Republican establishment, so he's angry," he says. "He'll never be a candidate again. He doesn't owe Romney anything; you could argue he doesn't owe the Republican party anything. The longer he stays in, the more delegates he'll get, the more attention he gets, the greater the chance that he gets to be given a prime-time speaking slot at the convention and some influence over the platform."
Sabato says Gingrich can afford to pick his battles in February and concentrate on certain states that play well for him.
"He may for February settle on one state, maybe it's Arizona," he says. "Arizona makes more sense than anything else. But he does have some good states on March 6 and the following week. He's strong in the South, strong in border states."
Another x-factor in the potential success of Gingrich's continued candidacy is whether or not former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum drops out in the coming weeks. The two men are splitting the conservative, anti-Romney vote, according to polling data.
"I don't know how long he'll want to continue; again, it depends on the money and what percentage of the vote he gets in the various contests," Sabato says of Santorum. "Nobody wants to be humiliated. If they dwindle down to those single digits, they're going to want to get out."
Hayes adds that with the recent health scare regarding his 3-year-old daughter, Bella, who has a rare genetic disorder, Santorum may be forced to make a decision not based on the politics.
"It's possible that even if Santorum really doesn't want to drop out he may use that as an opportunity to do so," he says. "He can say, look I'm still committed to fighting for these issues that I care about but my family comes first."
Sabato, author of the political prognosticating website 'Sabato's Crystal Ball' predicts that no matter what each of the candidates' decide, Romney's chances of winning the GOP nomination are between 80 percent and 90 percent.
"But that doesn't mean that he gets the nomination in the way he'd like to receive it," he says. "You never know how nasty a convention might turn out to be."