I dropped into Newt Gingrich’s campaign headquarters just now and spoke with a couple of people there to get a feel for the mood among his supporters. One volunteer told me that Gingrich backers aren’t under any illusions that their man can win tonight. But what they are hoping for is a strong finish. One person I spoke with suggested fourth place was an absolute minimum requirement, although in an ideal world finishing ahead of the surging Jon Huntsman was of more practical use.
The hope among some volunteers seems to be that a third place finish would force a couple of candidates out of the race, giving a Romney alternative a chance to pick up some support in South Carolina and then Florida. Both these states should be more friendly territory for Gingrich, although a Quinnipiac Universitypoll in Florida suggests that Gingrich now trails Romney in Florida by 12 percentage points, having led him by double digits just recently.
Does all this mean that Republicans won’t be able to rally around Romney if he wins the nomination? “No, it’s definitely anybody but Obama, not anybody but Romney,” one volunteer told me.
Whether that’s true or not – and how motivated Republicans are to eject Obama – will likely be a little clearer once the turnout for tonight’s race is announced.