Politics

Newt’s Nevada Goal: End Santorum

No one thinks he can beat Mitt Romney here. But his supporters hope a strong second-place finish will narrow the race to two.

PAUL J. RICHARDS / Getty Images

LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Newt Gingrich, bracing for defeat in Florida, is already trying to set the bar low for Nevada’s caucuses this weekend, conceding that “the Mormon influence” in the state will likely hand Mitt Romney a victory here.

But Team Newt still has a goal for the state: to beat Rick Santorum so badly for second place that former Pennsylvania Senator has no real choice but to drop out.

Chuck Muth, a Nevada operative who works for the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future Super PAC, said the goal is to narrow the field to a two-man race (plus Ron Paul) by Super Tuesday.

“If [Santorum] comes in way behind Gingrich, I think then a lot of conservatives may have reality hit them right square between the eyes,” said Muth. “They’ll have to say, ‘Rick, we like you, but now is not your time.’”

Of course, Santorum doesn’t pose much of a threat to Gingrich; recent polls show Romney leading by as many as 12 points, while Gingrich is comfortably in second. To ensure a decent showing, Gingrich’s campaign has announced that he’ll spend the rest of the week here, first in Carson City, then in Las Vegas.

But Muth worries that a Florida blowout could weaken pro-Gingrich turnout.

“If he gets beat by 20 points, and I don’t think that will happen, but if it does, I think a lot of people are going to see the writing on the wall ond not show up to caucus,” he said.

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