ATLANTA, Ga. – In Georgia, it was native son Newt Gingrich who was on voters' minds.
The Associated Press called the statewide Republican presidential primary for the former House speaker just minutes after the polls closed at 7 p.m., after exit polls showed Gingrich topping the field by a wide margin. According to AP, exit polls showed Gingrich winning 75 percent of the votes from Georgia Republicans who said his relationship with the state impacted their vote.
Georgia is just one of 10 states where voters are casting ballots in the GOP race featuring four candidates – Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
At a polling station in a northern Atlanta suburb earlier on Tuesday, voters expressed their support for Gingrich.
"I voted for Newt Gingrich and I think everybody should. Newt is the smartest dude in the race," said Raymond Martin of Lawrenceville. "He's got solutions to the problems and he's more specific and knows how to solve problems. I've known him a long time and he's a good man."
Joe Brown of Lawrenceville said he was a reluctant Gingrich supporter.
"I voted for the lesser of all evils," Brown said. "You would think in a country like this we could find somebody who could do a good job running this country. We've got to clean things up and I'm not real confident that we're not trading one for another in the Republican crew."
Gingrich began his Super Tuesday addressing a crowd of about 150 at a Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce breakfast. Gingrich eschewed his recent campaign speech promising gas prices of $2.50 a gallon in favor of promoting his 'big ideas' agenda.
"You can't fix the federal government, you've got to fundamentally change it," he said. "We had better have a profound, fundamental overthrow of the existing structure of elitism or we're going to cease being America. And that's where we are. It's not complicated, it's just really hard."
Gingrich then leveled a backhanded compliment at his GOP rivals.
"The truth is, I have opponents who are in a normal period adequate, but they have anything like the scale of change I just described," he said.
Gingrich also couldn't help but take swipes at his favorite targets – the media and President Obama.
"What you're watching is the last desperate effort of the elite media to smother an uprising by diverting us into any possible fight that isn't relevant to the real world," he said, referring to being asked to react to the recent flap between conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and a Georgetown University law student.
His dig at the president aimed to prove why he should be the Republican champion in the fall.
"You had better be prepared to wage a campaign based on ideas this fall, because the only hope we have to beat Obama is to have better ideas communicated clearly and cutting through his billion dollar campaign because he will be relentlessly negative," Gingrich said.
Gingrich concluded by comparing the challenges facing the nation on par with the Civil War.
"We could have such a positive future as a country if we got back on track that our grandchildren would be amazed," he said. "But to do that is going to be one of the most wrenching and difficult challenges in America, the biggest challenge since the Civil War."
Defeating front-runner Romney, who is the leader in the all-important delegate count, will likely prove to be a similar challenge for Gingrich, who is not expected to fair as well in other states.
While Georgia's 76 delegates are the most at stake in a single state on Tuesday, Gingrich will need to garner at least 50 percent of all support in each congressional district to sweep them into his column. And they total less than a quarter of the total delegates at stake on Tuesday.
- Read: The Ballot 2012 to keep up on the latest campaign news
- Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy
- Follow U.S. News Debate Club on Twitter