Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is heading home to Georgia next week, hoping to revive his struggling presidential campaign with a strong southern showing during the upcoming Super Tuesday primary contests. Gingrich, who represented a congressional district in the Peach State for 20 years, is banking on voters in Georgia and Tennessee to replicate his success in South Carolina and keep him in the GOP nomination fight.
"He's the favorite son, absolutely," says Susan Meyers, spokeswoman for the Gingrich campaign in Georgia. "Also, this is a very conservative state. They want a candidate who will take on Barack Obama, who is not shy to stand up in the debates, and someone who has a record of cutting taxes and restoring jobs."
The state's voter profile also mirrors that of neighboring South Carolina and the Florida panhandle, where Gingrich saw his greatest support in voting so far.
The state of South Carolina and the state of Georgia in some ways are similar," Meyers says. "The further you get out beyond the [Atlanta] beltway, the more conservative it gets."
And the rural Georgian vote, which also favors Gingrich, according to Meyers, will be a critical group. "Most of the Republicans who will be voting in this primary, where most of the votes are, are going to be outside in the perimeter and north, to the north Georgia mountains, because a lot of people have retired or moved out of the city or settled in those suburbs," she says.
The Gingrich campaign, which has already invested time in Georgia, recently announced a two-day bus tour of the speaker's old congressional district next week. Meyers says the large turnout he received in previous trips has prompted his return.
"After last weekend when we had to turn crowds away, we realized he is very much loved here and he wants to take advantage of that," she says. "He's going to make the rounds at a couple of the mega-churches in Georgia just to see enough of the people."
Meyers says the campaign has three offices open now in the state with 12 paid staffers and tens of thousands of volunteers working the phones, putting up signs, and setting up for events.
Locally, the legislature has recently taken up a pair of hot-topic social conservative issues, including one measure aimed at further restricting abortions and another that would outlaw physician-assisted suicides. This has prompted some speculation that another GOP candidate know for largely for his social conservative credentials, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, might do better than expected in Georgia. But Meyers dismisses the notion.
"When it comes to the national campaign, it's totally the economy because of how bad our unemployment rate is," she says. "They say the national unemployment rate is getting better, but we're not seeing it here."
In order to jump-start his viability, Gingrich needs more than just a close win in his home state, and Meyers is setting high goals.
"We'd like to see him get at least two thirds of the vote here. The more delegates the better," she says, adding the campaign would love to get a majority vote in the Republican congressional districts, if not all the districts.
Georgia voters and their neighbors in Tennessee are slated to cast their ballots on March 6, known as Super Tuesday, alongside eight other states across the country.