On Friday night in Macon, Newt Gingrich will give his first dinner speech as a Republican presidential candidate.
C-SPAN has already reserved a spot for its camera. But his YouTube announcement should give you a taste:
The Macon event will no doubt take on the trappings of a homecoming. The former Georgia congressman, who played a large role in the creation of the Republican party in this state, is sure to get an enthusiastic reception. Maybe even a rowdy one.
Many remember the heady days of ’94, when he became only the third Georgian to be elected speaker of the U.S. House.
But Gingrich is now a resident of Virginia, has been for some time, and plans to remain so. And if he wants to be the undisputed favorite son of Georgia Republicans in the coming campaign, he has more work to do.
One word of advice: Keep an eye on Herman Cain, the former radio talk show host and business executive.
Now, listen. To be honest, the title of “favorite son” may not matter. Gingrich will be running a national campaign that happens to have an Atlanta — i.e., non-Washingtonian — address.
Despite passage of legislation this spring that would allow Georgia to move its presidential primary to late January, if history is any measure, the contest for the GOP nomination will be over before it arrives at our doorstep.
Moreover, an endorsement from Gov. Nathan Deal, who served in the House with Gingrich, is nothing to sneer at.
Yet if a governor’s endorsement dictated Gingrich’s fortunes in Georgia, the state GOP convention — over which Gingrich will say grace — would not spend much of this Saturday fighting over the chairmanship of the party.
Deal’s pick, Marietta businesswoman Tricia Pridemore, is conducting an uphill fight against two-term incumbent Sue Everhart of Cobb County.
More telling is the fact that, of Georgia’s eight House Republicans, only half have endorsed the former speaker’s presidential campaign. Of them, Jack Kingston of Savannah served with Gingrich. Phil Gingrey of Marietta and Tom Price of Roswell represent slices of Gingrich’s old 6th District in north metro Atlanta.
Austin Scott of Tifton, who announced his support Wednesday, was elected in November. “We need a president that is willing to reduce federal spending, balance the budget, and respect the constitutional rights of the citizens and of the states,” Scott said.
Of those who are keeping their powder dry, two House Republicans are the most closely allied with the tea party: Tom Graves of Ranger and Paul Broun of Roswell. Lynn Westmoreland of Coweta County is another.
But Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville is the most interesting holdout. Before his election, Woodall served as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. John Linder, one of Gingrich’s top lieutenants during his speakership.
Through a spokesman, Woodall praised Gingrich’s reputation as a man of ideas and expressed no doubts about the former speaker’s ability as a candidate. But Woodall wants to see who else will join the race.
To be sure, support from congressional Republicans won’t make or break Gingrich. As one Georgian in Washington said this week, given the direction that House Republicans are pushing the debate over the federal debt limit, Gingrich and other GOP presidential candidates in fact may require insulation.
Still, it is the tea-party dynamic that could give Gingrich trouble in Georgia, and perhaps elsewhere. If Gingrich can’t persuade voters that he brings something fresh to the contest, then — at least in Georgia — Cain becomes an attractive alternative.
A Morehouse graduate and son of a chauffeur for Coca-Cola executives, Cain has courted the tea-party movement since its inception — and his phones have been swamped since a well-received performance at last week’s GOP presidential debate in Greenville, S.C.
“It’s been surreal,” said Emily Carmichael, his campaign spokesman.
Cain will announce his candidacy on May 21 with an event at Centennial Park in downtown Atlanta. And he will speak Saturday before the GOP crowd in Macon. C-SPAN will cover both events.
Cain’s campaign office is in Stockbridge, 25 miles from Gingrich’s Buckhead headquarters. And perhaps not by accident, his staff has little to fear from working for a rival to the governor’s choice.
Half of the staff is from Wisconsin, Carmichael said. They followed campaign manager Mark Block, whom Cain met through the anti-tax group, Americans for Prosperity.
One more curious note about Gingrich’s speech on Friday: As of late Wednesday, a spokesman for Deal could not say whether the governor would be in the audience.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider