WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- Newt Gingrich clearly has no plans to get out of the presidential race. When a reporter pointed this out after a rally at UNC Wilmington Wednesday, Gingrich said, "I want to commend you. You're the first reporter to state the obvious."
Despite lagging in the polls and delegate count behind Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, the former Speaker of the US House plans to plod on and stake his hopes on upcoming primaries in Delaware and North Carolina. His speech in front of a full house at UNCW's Lumina Theatre was the first public appearance by a GOP candidate in the Tar Heel State so far. Gingrich says it's the first of many visits in the coming days to a state he says wants a true conservative in the White House.
"Folks came up to me afterward and said, 'Please stay in. Represent our values. Fight for conservatism,'" Gingrich said. "I think there's a feeling that they want to send a signal from North Carolina that they want a more conservative platform, a more conservative candidate."
Gingrich says despite how negative the Republican campaign has become there's no doubt that when it's over, all the candidates will stand united to try and unseat President Barack Obama.
"Ultimately this fall it's a straight-forward choice: Who do you think is better for the future of America? The Republican nominee or Barack Obama?" Gingrich said. "And Romney and Santorum and I have all discussed it, we've all talked about it together, that if Santorum is the nominee, Romney and I will support him. If Romney's the nominee, Santorum and I will support him. If I'm the nominee, Santorum and Romney would support me."
Still, Gingrich is not ready to say Romney is the best man for the job, and he believes even those endorsing Romney are backing him because they think he's the inevitable nominee.
"I think my job is to say, 'Wait a second. We have every right to campaign until it's over,' and it's not over till it's over," Gingrich said. "So people say, 'Why don't you drop out?' That's exactly wrong. This is a great state for sports. You expect basketball teams to play the entire game. I mean, if they came out and said, 'Well, gee, we really had a bad first half. Why don't we quit at halftime?' people would think they were crazy."
Gingrich said he hopes North Carolina will be a springboard to an open convention, just as it was for Ronald Reagan in 1976. Of course, Reagan eventually lost that race to incumbent Gerald Ford.
Gingrich says he has events planned in Raleigh and eastern North Carolina Monday and Tuesday. He said he will then begin criss-crossing the state later next week.