Politics 2012: Alabama a 'must-win' state for Gingrich

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International  |  March 11, 2012 at 3:45 AM
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The drama that is the Republican presidential nomination process travels to Alabama Tuesday where 50 delegates are at stake.

Newt Gingrich, fresh off claiming a win on Super Tuesday in Georgia, which he represented in Congress for two decades, says he wants to carry the momentum in to the two southern states having primaries Tuesday: Alabama and Mississippi.

"You rebuild by playing to strength," Gingrich said in an interview with CBS. "In the end, Republicans are going to say, 'Who can beat Obama?' [Rival Mitt] Romney has so far failed to close that sale."

Rick Santorum won Tennessee on Super Tuesday, while Romney claimed a win in Virginia in which only he and Ron Paul were on the ballot.

The calendar plays into Gingrich's hand, with southern states rolling through their primaries in the next few weeks. What plays against Gingrich, The Huffington Post said, is that there are no more televised debates scheduled to give Gingrich a platform -- gratis -- to get his views to potential voters and exercise his considerable debating skills.

Just as Georgia was a must-win for Gingrich, his campaign now is framing Alabama and Mississippi as must-win states for Gingrich to remain credible, ABC News reported.

"From Spartanburg [S.C.] all the way to Texas, those all need to go for Gingrich," Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said.

Senior campaign adviser Randy Evans told ABC News the campaign's "safety net" is Texas. Campaign leaders say they want to remain in the race through May 29 (Texas' rescheduled primary) in hopes of having near equal numbers of delegates as Romney and Rick Santorum.

"We're staying in this race because I believe it's going to be impossible for a moderate to win the general election," Gingrich told a crowd in Montgomery, Ala., last week.

While Romney and Rick Santorum joust with each other in state after state, Gingrich has foregone competing in some states to focus on others, particularly in the south, to get his message out more efficiently while hoping GOP voters still longing for anyone but Romney (or Santorum) will give the former House speaker another chance.

The southern swing also gives Romney one more chance to prove he can reach out to evangelicals and conservative Republicans who, so far, have been reluctant to embrace him.

Romney's performance in Mississippi and Alabama Tuesday, and in Louisiana March 24, could give him some cred in a region where he was trounced in South Carolina and where his polling until recently has been weak.

The region's conservatism has been good for Santorum's focus on social issues, which could mean pressure on Romney to reiterate his positions on those issues and illegal immigration, which could spell trouble for him if he is the party's nominee against Obama, The Wall Street Journal reported.

A Gallup poll last year indicated half of the state's residents surveyed either identified themselves as Republican or leaned Republican while 37 percent said they were Democrats or leaned Democrat.

In the 2008 primary, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee claimed a win with 41.3 percent of the vote. Romney finished third with 17.8 percent and Paul finished fourth with 2.7 percent.

Romney isn't expected to win in Alabama but a surprise victory would signal Romney's strength and staying power in the nomination fight, Politico said. Several polls in late February indicated Santorum was leading, with Gingrich second.

Alabama's delegates are awarded proportionally.

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