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Can A Win In Georgia Bring Gingrich’s Campaign Back From The Dead Again?

Filed by KOSU News in Politics.
March 3, 2012

Newt Gingrich relishes tweaking “establishment types” who last summer declared his presidential campaign dead, only to watch as he rode feisty debate performances to a surge in the polls and a win in South Carolina’s GOP primary.

“In June and July, they said my campaign is dead,” Gingrich, former U.S. House speaker, said during a campaign stop this week in Georgia. He’s pinning his latest attempt at resurrection on that state’s Super Tuesday primary.

“One of them actually compared me to Bruce Willis in Sixth Sense and said, ‘He’s the only guy left in the room who doesn’t know he’s dead,’” Gingrich said. The former speaker got a laugh with his reference to M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 movie in which a boy communicates with people who, indeed, don’t know they’re dead.

But Gingrich’s late-year bump in national and state polls has mostly evaporated. His financial savior, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, may have given the last of many millions to the Gingrich-friendly “Winning Our Future” superPAC.

And the GOP race feels more and more like it has moved on from Gingrich, and narrowed to a two-man race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

Gingrich’s “I’m still alive” crusade rests on the results Tuesday in his home state of Georgia, the only state where he leads in the polls.

With it cache of 76 delegates, the most to be awarded among Tuesday’s 10 GOP presidential contests, Georgia is Gingrich’s imperative. Whether it salvages his mercurial candidacy is far less certain.

No Winner Take All

New Republican Party rules that have served to lengthen the presidential nominating contest may be more complicated in Georgia than anywhere else. And very conducive to spreading the delegate love.

Here’s how Georgia’s 76 delegates will be allotted based on Tuesday’s vote: Forty-two will be awarded based on who finishes first and second in each of the state’s 13 congressional districts. Each district has three delegates to award; two will be given to the candidate finishing first in the district, and one to the second-place finisher.

But, wait: If a candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote within a district, he’ll get all three delegates.

There’s more: Thirty-one delegates will be awarded proportionally to candidates based on the statewide vote. But — and this probably will affect only Ron Paul — a candidate has to get at least 20 percent of the vote to be eligible for a proportional delegate award.

Finally, an additional three delegates will go to the candidate who wins the statewide vote.

Strong In Georgia, And Then?

Polls in Georgia over the past few weeks have shown support for Gingrich holding fairly steady. Santorum has spent time in the state, and Romney dispatched his wife, Ann, to campaign there.

Though Santorum in recent weeks had looked to be making inroads, his strength has weakened, and he and Romney are in a tight battle for second place and a share of Georgia’s delegates.

Say Gingrich wins the popular vote statewide, and, just for argument’s sake, finishes first in every district. He could capture more than 40 delegates, and then go where?

Santorum, a vocal social conservative, has upended Gingrich’s post-Super Tuesday Southern strategy that runs through Mississippi, Alabama and Oklahoma. Evidence of Santorum’s strength in those states can be found in the recent Federal Election Commission filings of the pro-Romney superPAC “Restore our Future.”

It has already sunk more than $680,989 into anti-Santorum media buys and direct mail in Mississippi, and another $1.29 million in Alabama, also targeting Santorum, according to an analysis of FEC data by NPR’s S.V. Dáte.

By ignoring Gingrich, the pro-Romney superPAC certainly could help the Georgia native’s prospects in those states, but it is also a comment on the larger scope of the race for the nomination. Gingrich doesn’t matter, Romney’s superPAC is saying — taking out Santorum does.

NPR’s analysis of FEC records shows that in Georgia, all of the media buys from the pro-Gingrich superPAC, Winning Our Future, have been positive ads about the candidate, and have not targeted Santorum or his other opponents.

In Oklahoma and Tennessee, however, the Gingrich campaign has unleashed a Santorum-bashing robocall that characterized the former Pennsylvania senator as a friend to big unions while he served in Washington.

In Oklahoma, polls show Gingrich and Romney trading off second and third, and both trailing Santorum badly.

A Movable Message

As he moves to contests in the religious South, Gingrich has moved his message, some say inexplicably, to energy, promises of $2.50-a-dollar gasoline and amorphous aphorisms about vision and bolder vision and visionaries.

“We have two fine candidates who aren’t visionaries,” Gingrich said during a Georgia campaign event. “One runs around saying he’s a manager, the other one goes around saying he’s essentially a very fine, traditional big government union conservative.”

Gingrich referred to President Obama as a “hard-line left winger” who opposes drilling for oil, and to himself as someone with a bolder vision than his GOP adversaries.

The candidate’s desultory speech the night of his poor showing in the Michigan and Arizona primaries this week was long, puzzling and dominated by an account of a youthful attempt to cut down a tree.

But, then again, when his campaign was first declared DOA, he was on a cruise in Greece, and defending lavish spending on jewels from Tiffany for his wife, Callista.

Just how many lives this Gingrich campaign has may look much clearer by the end of the night Tuesday. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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