In little more than a year — Feb. 7, 2012, to be exact — Republican voters in Georgia will go to the polls to cast ballots in a GOP presidential primary.
As Jim Galloway confirmed last week, the name of Newt Gingrich will probably be on the ballot. The former speaker is reportedly telling Georgia Republican leaders that he intends to mount a national campaign out of Atlanta, presumably to try to shed himself of the taint of Washington.
“My offices are here. My grandchildren are here. I’m here regularly,” Gingrich said in a press conference Thursday in Atlanta. “I helped create the modern Republican Party in Georgia starting in 1960. I have a certain fondness for being back in Atlanta.”
Gingrich did make his name here, but he then moved on to pastures that he perceived to be greener, as the man is wont to do. And while he might see himself as a co-founder of the modern Georgia Republican Party, that’s not the story you hear from Republicans themselves, many of whom saw Gingrich as far more concerned with pursuing his own national ambitions than with helping to build a party back home. (Shocking, I know).
So here’s a prediction: Assuming that Gingrich is still in the race come Feb. 7, after the Iowa caucuses and primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, he will not win the Georgia primary. In fact, I’d be surprised if he even managed a close second.
Some of that depends on who decides to enter the race and who doesn’t. In a Magellan poll taken last June, 29.8 percent of Georgia Republicans said they would vote for Gingrich in a primary, making him the nominal frontrunner. (He was followed by Mike Huckabee (24.5 percent), Mitt Romney (14.4 percent) and Sarah Palin (12 percent).
Not surprisingly, Gingrich did best among Republicans 55 and older, who are more likely to link him to Georgia. (Palin, by the way, got only 3.4 percent of Georgia Republicans between 18 and 34). But given the favorite-son status that Gingrich wants to claim here, you have to look at that 30 percent figure as closer to his ceiling than his floor.
As those numbers indicate, he has no great reservoirs of fondness, gratitude or state pride to draw upon here, and I doubt that many Georgia Republican leaders will be willing to cast their lot with him at the risk of alienating candidates perceived to be much more viable nationally. A lot of factors are at play in the endorsement game, but it usually comes down to wanting to side with a winner.
– Jay Bookman