POLITICS

Nevada caucus: Gingrich fumbles but moves forward

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LAS VEGAS (AP) - Newt Gingrich is struggling to regain his footing following a campaign in Nevada beset by glitches as the race for the Republican presidential nomination moves to the next phase.

During the few days following Tuesday's drubbing in Florida, Gingrich bungled a meeting with Nevada's governor then suffered through the indignity of having advisers tell reporters that the former House speaker would score the endorsement of Donald Trump, only to watch the unpredictable real estate tycoon back Mitt Romney.

Gingrich's campaign has always been a bit of a freewheeling affair, especially lined up against the regimented Romney effort. Gingrich is perpetually late, he frequently strays off message and his schedule sometimes seems improvised. His public appearances in Nevada have been surprisingly few, and he didn't even venture out to caucus sites on Saturday as voters cast ballots.

But in Nevada, organizational problems have been laid bare in a fashion that raises questions about whether he's can compete in upcoming contests.

Gingrich aides say they have been using Nevada - where Romney was heavily favored and Ron Paul has sizable support - to reset the campaign after being clobbered in Florida.

One reason Gingrich held just five public events since arriving in Nevada is that he's been at closed-door fundraisers and meeting with donors at the Venetian Hotel, lining up the cash he'll need.

The Gingrich strategy hinges on Super Tuesday on March 6, when the campaign will sweep South again through states that look good for him. Gingrich - who is own chief strategist - and aides have been hunkered down mapping out strategy. Ohio will figure prominently in the mix. He'll head to the Super Tuesday state on Tuesday, bypassing other states that have contests sooner.

Gingrich named Patrick Millsaps, a Georgia Republican who had been traveling with Gingrich as his deputy legal counsel, as a chief of staff. Millsaps is tasked with making the trains run on time and also installing day-to-day message discipline on the road.

Nevada provides a pretty good example of what not to do.

"We're a bunch of volunteers that are drinking water through a fire hose," said George Harris, a national co-chairman of Gingrich's finance team who hosted a fundraiser for him at his Las Vegas restaurant, Mundo.

"And yeah, sometimes the left hand doesn't know what the right is doing. But that's how it goes sometimes," Harris said.

In fairness, just three days separated the Florida primary and the Nevada caucuses. Romney carried 51 percent of the vote in the state when he first sought the Republican nomination in 2008, and his Nevada operation remains strong.

But Gingrich fumbled some key opportunities.

A meeting in Carson City Wednesday with Gov. Brian Sandoval was scrapped following scheduling confusion between Gingrich's national and state staff. Sandoval had backed Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who endorsed Gingrich after exiting the race last month. Gingrich backers in the state had been hoping that even if Sandoval failed to offer up an endorsement, that a photo of the two men together would hold sway among conservative caucusgoers.

Gingrich insisted there was a scheduling conflict citing a grassroots rally at a brewery in Reno at 1 p.m. Wednesday. But Sandoval's staff said the meeting had been set to take place at 11 a.m.

Gingrich's Nevada director Dan Burdish said he was disappointed by the mix up.

"I would have loved to get the two of the together," he said.

The state team had also pushed for more campaign time, including a swing through rural parts of the state. They were rejected.

Without a debate to key in on, Gingrich - who is usually seen as the wonkiest candidate in the room - sometimes seemed downright out of the loop as he met voters.

News on Friday was dominated by new jobless numbers that suggested an economic rebound.

But Gingrich made no mention of them as he plowed through a speech at Stoney's Rockin Country, a music club in Las Vegas. Asked about them afterward by reporters he said he hadn't seen them yet.

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