FREDERICK — Newt Gingrich said Monday he’s down but not out in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
On the eve of the Maryland primary, the former House speaker told more than 100 supporters at a Ford dealership he’ll stay engaged to ensure that the GOP national convention produces a conservative platform.
Gingrich said he’ll support Mitt Romney if the former Massachusetts governor wins the nomination. But Gingrich said Romney hasn’t won yet, despite his significant lead in delegates over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is second, and Gingrich.
“Governor Romney doesn’t have it locked down. And we have no obligation to back off and concede anything until he does,” Gingrich said to cheers from the crowd jamming the showroom floor.
Gingrich said last week that Romney probably will reach the 1,144 convention delegates needed to win the nomination. Romney is favored to win Tuesday’s primaries in Maryland, the District of Columbia and Wisconsin.
On Monday, Gingrich likened himself to the University of Kansas men’s basketball team, which was behind at halftime Saturday but went on to defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes in the NCAA semifinals.
Had the Jayhawks listened to the political news media, Gingrich said, their coach would have told his players at halftime, “We don’t want to go out and keep playing this hard. After all, why would we want to get all sweaty when it’s so obvious we’re going to lose anyway?”
Last week, Gingrich laid off a number of staff members to focus on what his campaign said were technological enhancements. Gingrich has not won a primary since his victory in his home state of Georgia last month.
During a question-and-answer session with students at Hood College later Monday, Gingrich said he supports making English the official language of government, as Frederick County did in February.
“The only common, unified language in the United States is English. That is an objective fact,” Gingrich said.
He dismissed a questioner’s concerns about the environmental dangers of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a method of extracting natural gas by forcing water, sand and chemicals deep underground to crack the bedrock and release the gas. The administration of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley is currently studying such issues before allowing fracking in the Marcellus shale, a rock formation underlying parts of western Maryland.
Gingrich said most fracking is now done below 8,000 feet, which he said is 6,000 feet below the water table that the questioner was worried about.
“I think you’re talking about a problem that doesn’t exist,” Gingrich said.
At the Ford dealership, he put in a plug for Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., who faces a tough re-election fight in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District. Redistricting has added more Democrats to the district, making it more competitive than it’s been since Bartlett first claimed the seat nearly 20 years ago.
Gingrich applauded the 85-year-old Bartlett for bringing attention to the threat of electromagnetic pulse — the possibility that an enemy could cripple America’s electrical network by detonating a large explosion in space.
“He has done more to try to highlight that issue than any other member of Congress,” Gingrich said.
Bartlett faces seven Republican challengers, led by state Sen. David Brinkley, in the state’s most closely watched primary. The five-way Democratic race features a contest between state Sen. Rob Garagiola and Montgomery County businessman John Delaney.
Incumbents in Maryland’s seven other congressional districts face little threat of losing their seats.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin is seeking his party’s nomination for a second term. His best-known opponent among the eight Democratic challengers is state Sen. Anthony Muse, a pastor from Prince George’s County.
Former Secret Service agent Daniel Bongino is among the 10 Republican candidates, and the one who has gotten the most attention.