By Ros Krasny
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - A defiant Newt Gingrich vowed on Saturday to continue in the 2012 Republican primary race and predicted that he could pull even with Mitt Romney in the delegate count within two months.
"I am a candidate for president of the United States. I will be a candidate for president of the United States," Gingrich said in Las Vegas. "We will continue to campaign all the way to Tampa," the party's nominating convention in late August.
The former U.S. House speaker suffered a second straight defeat to Mitt Romney, this time in the "first of the west" caucus in Nevada.
With 43 percent of precincts reporting, Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, had secured 44 percent of the Nevada vote to Gingrich's 26 percent.
"I think I will do better than John McCain did three years ago," Gingrich said of the Nevada outcome. McCain, who went on to be the Republican nominee, received only 13 percent of the vote to Romney's 51 percent in 2008.
Some of Romney's success at the ballot box has been attributed to massive spending on negative television ads against Gingrich, especially in Florida.
"Although we will be outspent, we think we can communicate through the clutter," Gingrich said.
"The vast majority of Republicans in this country want an alternative to a Massachusetts moderate. I think you can count on us being competitive in every state of the country."
A Republican candidate needs to amass 1,144 delegates to win the nomination. Only a relative handful has been allocated in the first five states to vote: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and now Nevada.
"We will seek to find a series of victories which by the end of the Texas primary (scheduled for April 3) will leave us roughly equal to Governor Romney," Gingrich vowed.
Gingrich spoke at the Venetian Casino, owned by magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has sunk an estimated $11 million of his own fortune into a political action committee that has bankrolled a series of attack ads against Romney.
Gingrich was upbeat, telling reporters they should "take a few hours off from politics" to watch Sunday's NFL Super Bowl, and quipping "did you miss me?" when asked about his sparse campaigning schedule in Nevada this week.
(Reporting By Ros Krasny; editing by Christopher Wilson)