(Photo: REUTERS/Marvin Gentry)
After losing the Mississippi and Alabama primaries earlier this week, Republicans close to the Santorum organization are calling on former Speaker Newt Gingrich to step aside so conservatives can rally behind one candidate. But Gingrich is countering, saying there are a few hundred thousand reasons why he should stay in the race.
"I have 176,000 donors at newt.org," Gingrich told host Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning on Friday. "They want me to stay in the race and I really represent their interest as individuals."
"Everywhere I went in Illinois yesterday, people came up to me and said, 'Please stay in the race, please represent big ideas, please represent thinks like $2.50 a gallon gas, a personal Social Security fund."
Rose pressed Gingrich further, asking him if he would exit if his largest supporter, billionaire casino magnet Sheldon Adelson asked him to do so. "No," replied Gingrich.
However, Gingrich statements about Illinois voters asking him to remain in the hunt seem to contradict themselves given that he has conceded the state to the two front-runners saying the contest will "largely will be Romney and Santorum."
In the latest FOX Chicago/WAA poll of Illinois voters taken on March 14, Romney holds a slight lead with 36 percent compared to Santorum's 31 percent. Gingrich finds himself with a mere 13 percent, far behind the front of the pack.
Gingrich's predecessor, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert who represented an Illinois congressional district for 20 years, eight of those as speaker, is supporting Romney. On a fly-around of the state, he told reporters he still considered his former colleague a friend, but expressed concern over his trustworthiness.
"You'll find that a lot of people who worked with Newt Gingrich over those years aren't supporting Newt Gingrich," he told ABC News on Thursday. "This guy is all over the place. You can't trust him. There's always a doubt out there about where this guy's going to go."
While Santorum supporters have been forthright in suggesting Gingrich quit the race, the Romney camp has been quiet as they do not want a one-on-one contest with Santorum.
But Gingrich disagrees.
"My view on that is that the minute Romney has one opponent his Super PAC will drown that opponent in mud," Gingrich told Laura Ingram on her Thursday radio program. "That's what happened to me in Iowa and Florida. It will eventually happen to Santorum and I think it is actually to our net advantage to keep Romney divided."
"I'm staying in the race to see if I can't in the second half of the race – Louisiana is sort of halftime. I want to see if we can't reset this whole race around the idea of really big ideas and really big solutions and insist that the American people have a chance to vote for a dramatically better future," Gingrich added.
Missouri will hold their GOP caucuses on Saturday; Puerto Rico will hold their primary on Sunday, followed by the Illinois and Louisiana primaries on Tuesday and Saturday of next week.