Politics 2012: Gingrich hopes to notch Georgia in win column

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International  |  March 3, 2012 at 3:45 AM
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Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is staking much of his political capital on winning Georgia Tuesday, a state he represented in Congress for nearly two decades.

"It is great to be home," Gingrich, born in Pennsylvania, told a crowd in Peachtree City recently.

Gingrich, who saw his front-runner status fade shortly before the Florida primary, trails leaders Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in all the national polls -- and sometimes trails Ron Paul, depending on which poll is reporting.

However, Gingrich has called the contest wide-open and vowed to remain a candidate through the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in August.

Gingrich said recent polls indicate Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, is neither invincible nor the inevitable party nominee, National Public Radio reported. Gingrich said people should take a wait-and-see attitude on Santorum to see how the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania does in the next few weeks.

"But the fact is I am the only candidate in this race who has stood nose to nose with presidents of both parties and not flinched," Gingrich said.

RealClearPolitics.com's average of polls Thursday indicated Gingrich held a 9 percentage point lead over Santorum, followed by Romney and Paul.

A week before Georgia's primary, A SurveyUSA tracking poll indicated Gingrich had 39 percent support, ahead of Santorum's 24 percent and Romney's 23 percent. A SurveyUSA poll taken in December showed Gingrich up by 53 percentage points over his rivals.

Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said Gingrich needs the support of Republican voters who are self-described as very conservative and somewhat conservative to win on Tuesday -- along with regaining the momentum he had in January and in the South Carolina primary, which he won.

"In order for Gingrich to really do well, he'd have to kind of bring back a lot of voters that have looked at him and looked away again," Black told NPR. "That's very, very hard in politics. So he needs a big win in Georgia in order to set off the possibility of any kind of Southern strategy."

Gingrich has placed a premium on doing well in Georgia and other Super Tuesday states, foregoing campaigning in Michigan and Arizona -- which Romney won last week -- to invest time and resources Southern states that hold their primaries on Tuesday instead.

Gingrich has maintained he has "a pretty high likelihood of winning" and that a Georgia victory "is central to the future of our campaign," Politico reported.

"I do have an enormous number of friends in Georgia," he said during a rally. "We're going to do everything we can to win here."

The Romney campaign, however, characterizes Gingrich's support as having leveled while support for the former Massachusetts governor has picked up, The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported recently.

"The more Georgia voters learn about Mitt Romney, the more they realize that he is exactly what our country needs right now," Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said.

Georgia has 76 delegates at stake. Delegates are awarded proportionally.

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