Orlando, Fla. – It was a grand ballroom, there was grand music, but there was no grand crowd. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's election night event could have been a metaphor for his performance in the Florida GOP presidential primary—offering grandiose promises but not attracting any support.
Gingrich was trounced in the contest by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who executed a nearly flawless ground game and overall strategy in the Sunshine State. He was quick to take advantage of Florida's absentee voting laws, sending mailers out to residents as soon as they requested ballots. He maximized his endorsements with top Hispanic public officials, including members of Congress, emphasized his ties with Arizona Sen. John McCain, also popular particularly with the Cuban-American community outside Miami, and played up his strong family ties to woo the important voting bloc.
He also ruthlessly pursued an all-out attack strategy on the air- and radio-waves, flooding the market with millions in negative advertising buys.
By the time Gingrich took the stage at about 9 p.m. here in the Rosen Centre Hotel to offer what—by any other candidate—would have been a concession speech, there were about 200 people gathered before the stage. Those that were there were cheery, thanks in part to the beer and chardonnay flowing from the bar.
Earlier in the evening, a Gingrich staffer had to ask errant supporters standing near the beer taps to move to the front because Fox News and other national television stations were "showing an empty room."
But even the staging cues couldn't ramp up the revery. Traveling businessmen and other political tourists popped into the room from time to time to be a part of the event, only to drift out again to find more happening locales.
Those who did stay were treated to defiant words by Gingrich, who neither called to congratulate Romney nor offered congrats in his remarks. Instead, he claimed, ironically given the turnout, he would use people power to defeat Romney in the remaining 46 states left to vote, though he's missed making the ballot in both Missouri and Virginia.
"We're going to have people power defeat money power in the next six months," Gingrich said, attributing his loss to being outspent.
"If I become your president, I pledge to you my life, my fortune and my sacred honor," he finished, borrowing from the last line of the Declaration of Independence.
And with that, he was off to compete in Nevada, which holds its caucus on Saturday.