Newt Gingrich vows he'll stay in the race for the GOP presidential nomination, despite coming in second in the Alabama and Mississippi primaries.
Conservative opinion is divided on whether the former House speaker should make way for a two-man race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
"Gingrich's final act could be king maker by getting out and endorsing, but pride cometh before the fall. Gingrich is in mid fall," writes Erick Erickson on the RedState blog. "What a sad end to a brilliant legacy. But his campaign is over. All we need is Haley Joel Osment and M. Night Shyamalan to point out to him he is dead."
Keith Appell, a veteran GOP strategist, is quoted in The Wall Street Journal and other news stories Wednesday that Santorum "has earned the opportunity to take on (Mitt) Romney in a two-man race."
There are reasons for Gingrich to keep plugging along, says John Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College.
"Most important, he has never seen himself as a mere candidate, but as a transformative figure," Pitney told National Review Online about Gingrich, who in the 1990s called himself a "definer of civilization."
"Compared with saving civilization, saving Santorum's challenge to Romney may seem like small potatoes," said Pitney, a former House GOP and Republican National Committee staffer.
In his remarks from Birmingham on Tuesday night, Gingrich said he'll keep fighting all the way to the Republican National Convention in Tampa this August. He alluded to calls for him to withdraw and even challenges ahead in raising money because of his two second-place finishes in the Deep South.
He and his campaign argue that Romney, who has 495 of the 1,144 delegates needed for the GOP nomination, will have a tough time closing the deal.
"After the primaries are over, it will be obvious that the so-called front-runner didn't get there," Gingrich said Tuesday night.
William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, cites the 1976 GOP race between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan and the 2008 Democratic primary between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton as positive examples of intra-party tumult.
"The victor in such a contest tends to seem by its conclusion a worthy winner, and is able to run a strong general election campaign coming out of the convention," Kristol writes.
He concludes: "So contrary to conventional wisdom, last night was a good night for Republican prospects to defeat Barack Obama. The point, after all, isn't to end the primary campaign early. It's to end the Obama presidency in November."
This story first appeared in USA Today.