It's hardly a secret that Rick Santorum wants and needs Newt Gingrich to exit the Republican presidential race. The longer the former Speaker stays in, the easier it is for Mitt Romney to lead the pack and win the GOP nomination.
Gingrich continues to insist he isn't going anywhere, despite his awful Super Tuesday performance everywhere except his home state, but his campaign seemed to lay down an important marker yesterday. Gingrich's campaign spokesman told NBC News that wins in both Alabama and Mississippi next week are essential.
The spokesperson, R.C. Hammond, was even more explicit with the Wall Street Journal.
Q: Newt said he had to win Georgia to remain a credible candidate. Does he have to win Alabama and Mississippi to remain a credible candidate?A: Yes.Q: He has to win?A: Yes.
As Andrew Sullivan noted, "There doesn't seem much wriggle room in the quote."
It's possible that Gingrich will change his mind, dropping this position and picking up a newer, younger line next week. But if he comes up short in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries, and sticks to his guns, Gingrich's presidential bid may wrap up in just seven days.
And if so, the impact on the larger race could be pretty significant. Romney has eked out a series of narrow wins over Santorum, thanks in part to Gingrich splitting the anti-Romney vote. If the former Speaker steps aside, Romney's path to the nomination will get considerably bumpier.