After suffering a pair of defeats in southern states in the Republican presidential primary, the political class is chattering about the fate of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – should he stay or should he go?
For months, Gingrich has been tussling with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum to be the conservative alternative to GOP front-runner Mitt Romney. His only primary victories – in South Carolina and his home state of Georgia – proved Gingrich was strongest in the South.
But Tuesday's losses to Santorum in Alabama and Mississippi were a blow to his Southern strategy and illustrated his limited viability as a presidential candidate.
"The Gingrich campaign needed a shot in the arm and they didn't get it," says Kyle Kondik, political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "If Santorum has a slim path to the nomination, Gingrich has no path at this point."
Despite the bleak outlook facing Gingrich, he is not showing any signs of bowing out of the race. In his speech following Tuesday night's contests, he took shots at Romney and repeated his vow to "go all the way to Tampa to compete for the nomination."
And while the losses build pressure on him to walk away from the race, Gingrich is neither a conventional candidate, nor is this a conventional nomination race, experts say.
"He has virtually no chance to win," says Ron Bonjean, a Washington-based GOP consultant. "But if Gingrich were to step down, this would mean he's been forced to step down twice on a major stage in his career. I just can't see that happening."
Not only that, Gingrich was likely a little encouraged that he finished second over Romney in the two states,, Bonjean says.
Andy Smith, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, agrees that Gingrich had a poor showing in a pair of states where he had a chance of winning, but says there's no real reason he should drop out of the race.
"Candidates don't drop out because they lose, they drop out because they run out of money," he says.
Smith says the infusion of third-party spending, largely new in this nomination cycle, allows losing candidates to remain a part of the calculation indefinitely.
"The whole paradigm of how nominees are chosen has shifted," Smith says.
Gingrich's campaign has benefitted from tens of millions of dollars in spending by a Super PAC in support of the former House speaker. The group's funding comes largely from one benefactor – Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson. Smith says as long as Adelson is willing to shell it out, Gingrich has not reason to step down.
"I don't think he has any illusion of winning the race. And he can stay in with relatively little money at this point," Smith says, adding that Gingrich may be angling for a role in an eventual Republican administration or just boosting his credibility as a prominent politician.
The race's other trailing candidate, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, is widely expected to remain in the race for quite sometime as well. But experts say his ambitions differ from Gingrich's.
"In terms of exerting pressure (in the Republican Party), I don't think Paul cares," says Kondik. "He's not going to listen to what the party tells him either."
For Paul, it's more a matter of making his voice heard.
"He represents an important constituency in the party, even though some of the positions he takes are largely unpopular," says Smith.
And unlike Gingrich, who has lashed out viciously towards his rivals at times, Paul has been more of a happy warrior.
Smith says this shows Paul understands "the likelihood of pulling this off is negligible."
The GOP race continues with contests in Missouri and Puerto Rico this weekend and a primary in Illinois next Tuesday.