New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) – In between checking out the flamingoes and elephants at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans Friday, Newt Gingrich touched on challenges for Mitt Romney and why his GOP presidential rival is keeping Gingrich in the race.
He made the comments while chatting politics with his zoo tour guide, Audubon Nature Institute head Ron Forman.
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Contrary to what he’s been saying for weeks, Gingrich suggested he would bow out of the Republican delegate hunt if Romney is close to the 1,144 delegates needed to clinch the nomination by the GOP convention this summer.
“Well it depends, if we are successful and he doesn’t have an absolute – if he doesn’t have 1,000 delegates, I mean you know, if he’s close, attrition will get him the last 100,” Gingrich said of Romney, when Forman asked if would go to the convention. “But if he’s under 1,000 delegates, I don’t think he’s going to get the nomination.”
Gingrich suggested Romney has a Napoleon complex, based on the way he is campaigning negatively against him and Rick Santorum.
“With both Santorum and me, he's now confused as to who he is attacking. It's his only technique. I tell people he's like a 4-foot-8 guy who wants to play center and his only technique is to shrink the others, which I think bodes very badly for a general election,” Gingrich said.
The former House speaker was in Louisiana campaigning ahead the state’s March 24 Republican primary. Gingrich attended a luncheon fundraiser at Galatoire’s on Bourbon Street and spoke to about 100 people at Ye Olde College Inn restaurant before he detoured from the campaign trail to visit a zoo, one of his favorite pastimes.
He held a rally on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain in Covington Friday evening, and said he plans to continue campaigning in the state next week.
Gingrich believes he holds an advantage in Louisiana because he lived in New Orleans in the 1960s when he was in college. As he was leaving the elephant exhibit, a reporter asked Gingrich about his chances in Louisiana and he said, “I feel good about it having been a Tulane graduate.”
After losing southern states Alabama and Mississippi to Santorum on Tuesday, Gingrich needs another victory to help keep his presidential hopes alive. He compared his campaign challenges to New Orleans recovering from the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“It’s a little bit like you after the hurricane - it’s more difficult and challenging than I thought it would be, but the direction is right and you can feel it beginning to work,” he said.
Forman, who once ran for mayor of New Orleans, lamented to Gingrich about the negative tone of the GOP race, fueled by ads run mostly by Romney and the Restore Our Future super PAC supporting Romney’s candidacy.
As Gingrich toured the zoo with his sleeves rolled up he noted the negative campaigning was going to hurt Romney and his ability to govern. He said, “Well, I think it makes it hard for him to, A– to beat Obama, and B– to govern.”
When he wasn’t talking about the challenging GOP race, Gingrich was learning about the animals inhabiting the Audubon Zoo. He spent some time with Panya, the 45-year-old 11,000-pound Asian elephant. “They like a hard pat,” he said as he patted Panya’s back.
Gingrich has a well-documented fascination with zoos, beginning in early childhood when he tried to establish a zoo in his hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, when he was 11 years old. CNN’s Piers Morgan interviewed him at a zoo in South Carolina in January, and he made an unscheduled stop at the San Diego Zoo on February 14, later telling reporters the visit was a Valentine’s Day present to himself.