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Georgia primary shaping up to be bruising fight

Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a news conference Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a news conference Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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Should Newt Gingrich remain in the GOP race?

  • Yes 60%
  • No 28%
  • I don't care 12%

108 total votes.

ATLANTA (AP) -- Georgia's Republican primary is shaping up as a role reversal for the two leading candidates, with Newt Gingrich backed by establishment support and a home-state network, while Mitt Romney is trying to play the role of an insurgent spoiler.

Gingrich has decades of relationships in Georgia. He launched his political career from the suburbs of Atlanta, and returned home while House Speaker to outline his vision of America's future. He has a dozen staffers here and landed the endorsements of Georgia GOP heavyweights, from Gov. Nathan Deal to his former presidential rival Herman Cain.

Gingrich's camp hopes his connections here put him in a strong position to win a major share of the 76 delegates up for grabs in Georgia, the biggest prize of the 10 contests on Super Tuesday.

"I can guarantee you that Newt Gingrich will not be losing Georgia," said Gingrich campaign aide Susan Meyers. "He will easily be putting Georgia in the win column."

But Romney's campaign is conceding nothing. The former Massachusetts governor plans to visit Georgia on Tuesday, which will attract campaign funding and media attention. And he hopes to build on a base of support here that earned him 30 percent of the vote in 2008.

"We're planning on mounting an aggressive campaign in Georgia," said Eric Tanenblatt, a Romney adviser. "The governor had a strong organization in 2008, and came very close to winning. We have a foundation to build upon and a lot of residual support from the last race."

The race puts Gingrich in a tricky situation because he's so heavily favored to win. If Romney senses the possibility of an upset victory, he may shift more resources here from other Super Tuesday contests like Virginia, where Gingrich isn't on the ballot.

"We could end up seeing a lot like what Florida just saw: A deluge of hard-hitting ads contrasting the two," said Joel McElhannon, a Republican strategist here who isn't aligned with either campaign. "Georgia, for Romney, could be the knockout punch. The question would become what's the path to victory for Newt if he were to lose Georgia."

Also expected to make a play for the state are U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning candidate with a devoted following, and Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who is pitching himself as the most viable conservative alternative to Romney.

University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock said Georgia voters could be hearing from all the campaigns because Atlanta's international airport makes this an easy place to visit, and because TV advertising in the Atlanta media market reaches so much of the state's population.

"If you're advertising in Atlanta, you're reaching the bulk of the electorate," he said. "We may be in a commanding position as opposed to four years ago when we were clearly eclipsed by other states."

Meanwhile, Democrats are also working to shape the debate in Georgia, where absentee balloting has been under way since Jan. 21. The Democratic Party of Georgia opened an office in Savannah on Saturday in hopes of raising Democratic turnout in November to boost President Barack Obama's re-election hopes.

Gingrich aides aren't taking Georgia for granted. Deal led a conference call with hundreds of Gingrich supporters last week, and the campaign expects volunteers to fly in from other states to supplement the paid staffers as the primary nears, said Meyers. Gingrich will make a swing through the South before the election and his surrogates, including Cain, are expected to stump for him around the region.

"Georgia is one of the most important states in securing the nomination. And we know southerners love Newt," Meyers said. "We expect huge crowds when he finally comes home. It will be a grand homecoming for him."

Romney's camp will make sure Gingrich has to fight for every vote here. Romney has some key endorsements, too, including Attorney General Sam Olens, who said he plans to "vigorously campaign throughout Georgia." A recent meeting attracted more than 200 Romney supporters, and the campaign is evaluating whether to pour more resources into Georgia, Tanenblatt said.

"We know that Speaker Gingrich is from Georgia so we have a little bit more of an uphill battle than other states, but we're mounting an aggressive campaign," said Tanenblatt. "We're going to have the resources to do what we need to do, not just in Georgia but across the country."

Comments

HonestIngine 2 years, 8 months ago

Romeny had to change to the Republican party in order to make a run to the White House. Remember, he is an Independent... running as a Republican.

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TOWG 2 years, 8 months ago

It is clear that the GOP will not field a small government conservative as the parties nominee this election cycle. We need to come together to insure Mr. Obama is a one term president. We need to hold our majority in the House and retake the Senate with candidates that will move our next president to the right.

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Jan 2 years, 8 months ago

You tried that with George Bush. What a disaster that was! Only successful right move was a Supreme Court that thinks corporations are people.

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R 2 years, 8 months ago

"He will easily be putting Georgia in the win column." just goes to show, even NEWT has a dream.

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suedehead 2 years, 8 months ago

The real GOP leaders are sitting this one out. They're waiting for 2016. The fundamental "Christians" have taken over the party and no matter who they nominate, they're not going to win. Bachman? Cain? Perry? Really? Now it's down to Flip Flop Romney, Hypocritical Adulterous Gingrich, Woman hating gay sex obsessed Santorum and Ron Paul. They had a viable candidate in Huntsman, but no one was listening.

Even if Obama is "the worst president ever", I'll take him over these clowns.

Then again, there is Roseanne. Now, THAT would be fun.

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Cleanupguy 2 years, 8 months ago

Well stated - I couldn't agree more. Huntsman would have been a great choice, but he was far too rational for the current crop of deciderers. Newt is a figment of his own dangerously deluded and grandiose imagination. His minions have even been caught attempting to rewrite history in Wikipedia, adjusting factual references to the depths of his serial philandering and ultimate ousting from the Speakership by his own party. It looks like his organization wants to control the elite media all by themselves. I’d love to see streetlights replaced by space mirrors, mining operations on the moon and colonies on Mars as much as the next guy (cut spending? I scoff!), but surely the GOP can do better than Newt. OK, so at this point one can either start wasting energy by blaming the current incumbent for original sin, or maybe a better choice could be made NOW to prevent more of the same. Newt is more like a terrible cartoon character than a viable candidate. It’s hard to imagine that good well intended conservatives could ignore reality and nominate this guy, but if so, at least it’ll be fun to watch.

“People want to hear what I have to say. It doesn’t matter what I do.” (Newt Gingrich)

It’s pretty hard to fathom that he wants the power to nuke someone, but from statements like this (as well as years of demonstrated bad behaviors) it’s clear that he would likely abdicate the responsibility for actually doing it.

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suedehead 2 years, 8 months ago

Right on.

Heh. Deciderers. Were you a speech writer for W? ;-D

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Cleanupguy 2 years, 8 months ago

Just a little humor there - thanks for catching it. Funny how nobody among the GOP has uttered a word about the Dubya "legacy".

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suedehead 2 years, 8 months ago

Well, according to them all of the problems in the US/World/Universe began on Jan 20, 2009.

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Cleanupguy 2 years, 8 months ago

Yeah - unemployment declining, stock market up, second Great Depression averted, economy recovering, Iraq (our first unprovoked war) finished, Libya liberated without US boots on the ground, Bin Laden and many of his friends killed, lowest tax rates since 1955, millions more with health insurance, auto industry salvaged and again thriving with a net return to taxpayers, zero White House scandals – all HIS fault!

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