Gwinnett, Georgia to play big role Super Tuesday

Reader poll

Which GOP candidate do you plan to vote for on Super Tuesday?

  • Newt Gingrich 30%
  • Ron Paul 13%
  • Mitt Romney 29%
  • Rick Santorum 28%

234 total votes.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- As far as strongholds go, Gwinnett may not be the most by percentage.

But the sheer volume of GOP votes that come out of the suburban county -- Georgia's second largest -- has caught the attention of the men vying for the party's nomination for president.

In fact, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has staked his race on a win in Georgia, will be in Gwinnett on Super Tuesday this week, hoping to garner some last-minute support.

Of course, the day isn't lost on Democrats, who can still cast their first vote of the year for President Barack Obama, the lone contender on that party's ballot.

Regardless of party, voters across Gwinnett on Tuesday can decide whether package sales of beer and wine will be allowed on Sundays, and the first City Council will be chosen in Peachtree Corners.BattlegroundA few months ago, Gwinnett could hardly be called a battleground.

Many believed Gingrich, if he made it that far, would have a big advantage in Georgia, which he represented in Congress.

But in the weeks since, Rick Santorum has surged to battle Mitt Romney, who has long been considered the front-runner, and the state has become a new stage for Super Tuesday.

"It's become even more serious," Gwinnett GOP Chairman Bruce LeVell said, pointing out that the state has gained population, even adding a congressional seat for this year. "We're a top contender, and they know it now."

Although 10 states will be voting, Georgia has the most delegates on the line for the GOP, so Santorum, who visited Gwinnett late last year, has made a point to tour the state in the past few weeks. He has events lined up for Monday.

Gingrich has spent much of the last two weeks with a final push here, and last week Romney sent his wife Ann to set up a Georgia campaign headquarters.

Romney hasn't spent much time here himself until today, but he has organized a big coalition of supporters, including endorsements locally from Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, Sen. Fran Millar and state Reps. David Casas, Valerie Clark and B.J. Pak.

And four years ago, Romney drew the most votes in Gwinnett -- 35.44 percent -- edging out Mike Huckabee, who eventually won the state. Eventual nominee John McCain came in third.

Ron Paul got less than 3 percent in Gwinnett in 2008, but he won the county GOP straw poll last month.

LeVell pointed out that county has often predicted the GOP contender for governor and other statewide races, even if it didn't pick the 2008 presidential nominee.

And candidates have to stand up and notice since the county votes could account for up to 10 percent of the statewide tally, which could make a margin of victory hard to make up.'A powerful punch'According to county elections director Lynn Ledford, about 4,000 people participated in in-person early voting before Friday. Another 1,500 sent in ballots by mail.

Those numbers are well below the 12,000 who voted early in 2008, but Ledford said the fact that Democrats do not have a contested ballot could play into the disparity.

Others could remain undecided in the GOP contest, which has seen a number of candidates emerge for short stints in the spotlight.

Only four candidates remain, although nine are on Georgia's ballot. The votes across America could whittle the field even more.

Gingrich, especially, has made Georgia significant, saying that if he doesn't carry his home state, his campaign for the White House could be over.

"We pack a powerful punch in delegates," LeVell said.

The majority of Georgia's 76 delegates are divided among the 14 congressional districts.

According to redistricting maps approved earlier this year, the majority of the county belongs to the 7th District, which also includes a highly conservative part of Forsyth County. Portions of Gwinnett are also in the 4th and 10th districts.

"Our base is one of the strongest ones," LeVell said. "We do determine elections."