The Washington Times - March 21, 2012, 06:42AM

CHICAGO — GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich responded to the news that Mitt Romney won the Illinois primary election and he finished in last place by delivering an electronic version of a good old-fashioned, one-two punch, which aimed at chopping down the two men who are easily outpacing him in the race to collect the magic number of delegates needed to seal up the Republican nomination.

The former House speaker first blasted out email shortly after the Associated Press called the race for Mr. Romney, claiming his party would be mistaken to put their faith behind the former Massachusetts governor because his winning formula has been based on outspending his GOP rivals.


The 68-year-old instead argued the party needs a nominee such as himself who offers “powerful solutions” — in particular his energy policies, which he claims will shave prices at the pump down to $2.50 a gallon.

“This is the type of leadership I can offer as the nominee, and this campaign will spend between now and when the delegates vote in Tampa relentlessly taking the fight to President Obama to make this case,” he said, alluding to the Republican National Convention in Florida, where the party’s nominee will be officially tapped this summer.

His spokesman, R.C. Hammond, followed that up with another email that drew attention to an appearance Patrick Millsaps, Mr. Gingrich’s chief of staff, made on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” where he dug into Rick Santorum for getting caught in a photograph catching some rays in a bathing suit while campaigning in Puerto Rico.

“I think we learned three things this week,” Mr. Millsaps said in an interview on with Mr. Morgan. “No. 1, I think we can all agree that no presidential candidate should sunbathe in public. I think that is universal.”

“The second one, and this is more important: Rick Santorum is not the candidate he has sold himself to be in the conservative base,” he said, arguing that the former Pennsylvania has “lost miserably” his two chances to beat Mr. Romney — in Puerto Rico and now Illinois.

Mr. Millsaps’ third point hinged on the notion that Mr. Gingrich has done better in head-to-head match ups with Mr. Romney. Then he predicted his boss make another comeback before the race ends.

“I think what we are seeing going into halftime is that Mitt Romney’s time in the sun is over, and you’ll see the speaker come back for the third time and press on,” he said.

Mr. Gingrich won South Carolina in early January, but has since struggled to gain steam. The latest delegate count from the Wall Street Journal shows him in third place, with 135 — ahead of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has 50, but well behind Mr. Romney’s 563 and Mr. Santorum’s 263.