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Despite lagging, Gingrich argues US needs his vision

By David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers –

ELGIN, Ill. — Newt Gingrich is still out there fighting for the Republican presidential nomination, invoking the Bible and Abraham Lincoln as he pushes the idea that America badly needs “a visionary conservative.”

“I’ve stayed in the race because I think Proverbs is right,” he told an appreciative audience at Judson University. “It warns that without vision, people will perish.”

Gingrich is given little chance of winning the Republican nomination, but he vows to stay in the race.

He said his campaign is having a “halftime resetting of the game plan,” and he plans to talk more about “big ideas” involving space, brain science, energy and other topics. He promised “a much clearer definition of a visionary conservative.”

But his path to victory is daunting. His hope to gain momentum in the South crumbled this week, when he lost crucial primaries in Alabama and Mississippi. He’s trying for a comeback in Illinois, which holds its primary Tuesday, but polling shows him a distant third.

And yet the former speaker of the House of Representatives insists he’s staying in, and he still draws good crowds.

“From casual conversations, I think many people are impressed by some aspect of Gingrich, but repelled by some other,” said Brian Gaines, a professor of political science at the University of Illinois.

“Almost everyone on the right gives him great credit for the 1994 landslide that brought the GOP back from the wilderness,” he said, referring to the Gingrich-led effort that gave Republicans the House majority for the first time in 40 years.

But voters also know Gingrich’s history: Two divorces, disdain from congressional colleagues who grew tired of his disorganized leadership style, ethics problems while speaker, and so on.

Whispers are growing louder among conservatives that his presence in the race is making it impossible for Rick Santorum to bring conservatives together to mount a strong challenge to Mitt Romney.

Too bad, Gingrich says.

He presses on, saying he’s the only one talking big ideas. If no one has a clear majority of delegates when Republicans convene in August in Tampa, Fla., to pick a nominee, he figures he has a shot.

Supporters are less upbeat.

“We need a father figure. We need the tough love he offers,” said Gary Kutina, a retired teacher who waited in a long line Thursday to hear Gingrich speak at Judson University, an evangelical Christian school in Elgin.

Asked if he thought Gingrich had a shot at the nomination, Kutina smiled. “No,” he said.

“He’s got a lot of good ideas,” added Gil Acosta, a retired Navy officer also waiting in the line. “Maybe some of his ideas will rub off on other candidates.”

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