Right after his Nevada loss, Newt Gingrich gave an extra-ordinary press conference where he effortlessly hopped from topic to topic and vowed to stay in the race. He also echoed his longstanding complaint about how Mitt Romney and his allies have buried him with negative ads.
Gingrich then blamed a relatively low Republican voter turnout (compared to 2008) on Romney's negativity.
"Over time I don't believe the American people will approve of a campaign that actually suprresses turnout," Gingrich said. "I think it's amazing. If you go look at Florida, every county I carried in Florida had an increased turnout. Every county Romney carried in Florida had a decreased turnout."
So, we took him up on the challenge, and here's what we found: in terms of raw numbers (comparing total votes cast in 2008 to 2012), 21 Gingrich counties cast more ballots -- not all 34 counties that voted for Gingrich. These are mainly small counties, so the margins weren't big. Liberty County, for instance cast 7 more votes in the GOP presidential primary last Tuesday than it did four years ago. Washington County had the biggest increase: 1,088. But overall, there were 11,112 fewer 2012 votes cast in Gingrich counties compared to 2008.
Usually, the word "turnout" is used to mean the proportion of ballots cast to registered voters. If that's the measuring stick, voter turnout was down in EVERY Florida county compared to 2008. Gingrich counties were marginally better.
In Gingrich counties, turnout was down an average of 5.8%
In Romney counties, turnout was down an average of 9.6%.
Another twist: average turnout in Romney counties (43.5%) in '12 was higher than the average of the Gingrich counties (40.6%) in '12. Even comparing to the 2010 governor's race (which had a smaller pool of voters), Gingrich and Romney counties still underperformed about as equally on a percentage-turnout basis.
Since Romney counties are so much more-populous than Gingrich counties, the Romney counties have a far larger total number of fewer votes cast in 2012 compared to 2008 (266,034). Still, Romney beat Gingrich by 242,019.
Also, Romney did better in 2012 than he did as runner-up in 2008 or than the first-place finisher then, John McCain. Romney won 74,298 more votes than McCain '08 and he garnered 171.127 more than Romney '08.
So, if Gingrich wants total votes in '08 compared to total votes in '12 to define turnout, then Romney excelled by Gingrich's own definition. But you wouldn't know that from Gingrich's Las Vegas presser.
"That should sober every Republican in the country," he said. "If the only way Romney wins is suppressing turnout, how is he going to do that in the fall?"
Gingrich also failed to mention that 2008 had high turnout because of a long-sought property-tax cut measure that enticed voters to the polls.
Still, Gingrich might be right. Republicans in Florida could have a problem on their hands. For all the talk of Republican excitement, fewer than 1.7 million Republicans voted -- a dropoff of 277,146, or 14.2 percent -- compared to 2008.