ATLANTA – Republican candidate Newt Gingrich is hoping to salvage his political career on Super Tuesday with a decisive win in his home state of Georgia.
In recent weeks, the former House Speaker has embarked on a grueling campaign tour in cities across the state with the hope that he can win its primary and break a recent losing streak.
Gingrich has acknowledged that a win in Georgia’s Republican primary is a “key building block” to his presidential campaign but has stopped short of saying a loss here would definitely force him out of race. Seventy-six delegates are at stake in Georgia’s contest.
In reality, a defeat in Georgia, the biggest of the 10 states holding primaries and caucuses on Tuesday, would deal a severe blow to any chance that Gingrich has of winning the nomination. According to recent polls, Gingrich has led in Georgia, but rivals Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have also spent money and time campaigning there.
Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, says that since Gingrich’s setback in Florida, he has been telling people that he will do better in the Southern states.
Gingrich failed to make it on to the primary ballot in Virginia, and he is trailing the rest of the candidates in the Republican primary polls in Tennessee, says Bullock. “If he doesn’t claim Georgia, it will be difficult for him to convince people to continue supporting his White House ambitions.”
Gingrich, who represented Georgia in Congress for 20 years, is being endorsed by a number of key Republican figures in the state, including fellow Georgian Herman Cain. The former pizza magnate, who dropped out of the contest in December amid sexual harassment allegations, has been actively supporting Gingrich on the campaign trail in Georgia and elsewhere.
Perhaps recognition that this may be his last chance to influence the election, Cain recently said, “My ideal job with a Speaker Newt Gingrich as president of the United States is to be a senior adviser not in charge of anything. That’s what I would want to do in a Gingrich administration.”
“Cain did receive significant support early on in the GOP campaign,” says Hilary Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau. “There are people out there who are still interested in what he has to say.”
Shelton, though, says he was disappointed by Gingrich’s remarks that African-Americans should “not be satisfied with” food stamps. “These types of comments rely on old stereotypes that are factually inaccurate, insensitive and racially discriminatory.”
Andra Gillespie, a political scientist who specializes in race at Emory University in Atlanta, says that all of the four remaining GOP candidates have made serious blunders that could potentially alienate them from minority voters; from Ron Paul’s racist newsletters, to Gingrich’s remarks about “poor kids becoming janitors,” to Rick Santorum’s “black people” gaffe. She adds, and then there was Mitt’s somewhat patronizing comments that Obama is a nice guy “just in a little over his head.”
Gillespie says that she does not expect local issues to be at the forefront of the Georgia primary. “Republicans will vote for the candidate they think can handle the economy, beat Obama and the person who they believe best reflects their values.”
According to Shelton, none of the Republican candidates are talking about issues that are relevant to African-Americans. They need to be addressing concerns like the foreclosure crisis, unemployment disparities and the challenges facing public schools, says Shelton.
Whatever the primary results on Tuesday, Georgia may prove to be a crucial swing state in the 2012 elections. The state has a complex political and racial landscape. African-Americans, who tend to vote for Democrats, have a long history of robust political activism in metro Atlanta. Yet, Georgia has been pretty reliably Republican since the 1980s.
Barack Obama lost Georgia by a margin of just five percent in the 2008 presidential elections and it is anyone’s guess whether or not he will be able to win Georgia this time around.
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