Newt Gingrich this morning attended services at Idlewild Baptist Church, the mega church in north Tampa, and then held a press conference to dismiss the polls showing him well behind Mitt Romney in Florida. The next few months, he said, will be campaign pitting the conservative grass roots against the GOP establishment - choice between some who would "genuinely change Washington" and someone who would "manage the decay."
"I think that the election will be substantially closer than the 2 polls that came out this morning. You'll notice 48 hours ago there was another poll that showed us tied. I think there are a lot of things going on. The most significant thing in both the polls this morning is that when you add the two conservatives together, we clearly beat Romney. I think Romney's got a very real challenge in trying to get a majority at the convention."
He dismissed the suggestion that a drawn out campaign could damage the GOP in the general election, saying Obama was a stronger candidate after a lengthy primary against Hillary Clinton and Reagan was a stronger candidate after his primary against George H.W. Bush.
"We have no evidence yet that Romney anywhere is coming close to getting a majority and I think when you take all of the non-Romney votes, it's very likely that the convention there will be a non-Romney majority and maybe a very substantial one. My job is to convert that into a pro-Gingrich majority," he said.
Gingrich was non-committal when asked if he's comfortable with Florida be a winner-take-all states where he would earn no delegates if he finishes in second place.
"I'm not going to get involved in an RNC procedural fight. They've got to decide what they want to do. I'll play by whatever the rules are that are given to us," he said.
Gingrich is competing with Rick Santorum for many of the same voters, but he said he has had no conversations recently with the former Pennsylvania senator. "This would be a totally inappropriate time to do anything like that," he said, referring to Santorum's hospitalized daughter.
"Rick's going to get a decent vote on Tuesday. I have no doubt the two of us are going to collectively outscore Romney and at that point there may be a pretty good conversation."
"The case that is being made all weekend among most evangelical leaders in Florida, is that the only vote that can stop Romney is for Gingrich and we'll see where we stand the day after the primary here."