On Tuesday night, as he celebrates expected victories in Pennsylvania, New York, and other states, Mitt Romney plans to accept the title of presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Certainly the overwhelming majority of party insiders, along with the rest of the political world, already views Romney as the GOP choice; Tuesday will be just more confirmation. So given those circumstances, why are some prominent Republicans in Delaware, which also votes Tuesday, throwing their support, at this late date, to Newt Gingrich?
In recent days Gingrich has announced the endorsements of Terry Spence, a former Speaker of the Delaware House; Jerry Wood, chairman of the Sussex County Republican Party; and Hans Riegle, chairman of the Kent County Republican Party. Delaware has only three counties; Sussex and Kent are the smaller ones, population-wise, and New Castle is the big one. The New Castle GOP is divided into three regions, and on Sunday Gingrich won the support of Bill Sahm, who chairs the Brandywine region in the northern party of the county. The bottom line is that Gingrich has the endorsement of the leaders of all three Republican county organizations in Delaware.
Why now? Gingrich was a hot candidate in Iowa, and hot again in South Carolina, and still fighting through Alabama and Mississippi. But why would a political figure endorse him now?
"Our state is a small state," says Riegle, a former Romney supporter. "The Speaker has come here numerous times. He has really shown an effort to win our state. He's done a great job meeting people, and that is really important. Gov. Romney came here one time….Of course, if Gov. Romney is the nominee, then I'm a Republican to the bone, and I will of course vote for Romney. But for Delaware, getting this much attention and getting to have a voice in the nation is important. If the Speaker wins here, it could turn things around."
"I'm a responsible conservative, and I think [Gingrich] best represents that viewpoint," says Wood. "I would hope that a conservative goes to the convention with more bargaining power."
Delaware has 17 delegates -- smaller than the total delegates awarded in Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands. Delaware's delegates will be awarded winner-take-all, but they are a tiny prize compared to New York's 95 delegates and Pennsylvania's 72.
But it is the smallness of Delaware, and its proximity to Washington DC, that makes it attractive to Gingrich. No plane tickets are required; the former Speaker can ride Amtrak from his home in Virginia -- that's how he is getting there for a campaign event Monday -- and can easily drive from place to place. "It's a state where we can get around," says Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond. "It matches our budget, if you will."
Also, Delaware is so small that word of mouth, rather than expensive television advertising, can be a good way to spread the word on a candidacy. "Our reason to go there was that our communication effort would actually reach people," Hammond continues. "You go to the firehouse, you pack the firehouse with as many people as you can, and you follow up." No big TV budget is required; people who have seen Gingrich talk to other people, who then talk to others. "We're like the flu," Hammond says. "Sometimes you catch it because you're just standing next to somebody."
According to the latest Associated Press totals, Romney has 685 of the 1,144 delegates required to clinch the Republican nomination. Gingrich has 136. (The RealClearPolitics total is 656 to 140, and the Republican National Committee count is 573 to 132.) And beyond the big states, Romney is a force in Delaware, too; his campaign has a list of more than 20 Republican politicos who have endorsed him there. Still, Gingrich's team manages to nurture some hope in a hopeless situation. If the former Speaker can win Delaware, Hammond says, he can put a crack in the narrative that Romney is unstoppable.
Hammond brings up the World War II movie Force 10 from Navarone, in which a small group of intrepid Allied fighters struggles to destroy a bridge in Yugoslavia that is crucial to Nazi forces. All they can do is set off explosives that might open up a few cracks in an upstream dam, but the cracks soon enlarge, and then the dam breaks, and then the flood of water destroys the bridge. "That's Delaware," says Hammond. "Delaware is going to blow a small crack in the dam, and the momentum of the water will overpower the bridge in the end."