ATLANTA — Newt Gingrich’s political career is coming full circle: The state that nourished his rise to House speaker could strike a fatal blow to his presidential ambitions – even by his own admission.
The former Georgia congressman has acknowledged that a loss in Georgia’s Super Tuesday primary would cripple his campaign. He’s betting he can make another comeback in Georgia and a series of Southern primaries during the next two weeks in a go-for-broke strategy to outlast his opponents and seize on conservative unease with Mitt Romney.
“I have to win Georgia, I think, to be credible in the race,” he told business leaders in Atlanta on Thursday. “But if I win Georgia, the following week we go to Alabama and Mississippi. I think I’ll win most of those. And we have a good opportunity to win in Kansas.”
Gingrich has had perhaps the most topsy-turvy campaign of any Republican, nearly imploding last year and then rising in Iowa before facing millions of dollars’ worth of negative attacks that weakened his campaign. He rebounded to win South Carolina’s primary Jan. 21, but since has been on a long losing streak, falling far behind in the hunt for delegates.
The comeback plan is fairly simple: Win Georgia and make a strong showing in Tennessee, Oklahoma and Ohio the same night, picking up enough delegates in the process to compete with Romney and Rick Santorum. He then hopes to pivot to Mississippi and Alabama on March 13 and stay in contention for large-delegate contests in Texas and California.
All bets could be off with a loss in Georgia. The state is hardly a given for Gingrich. He has led in recent polls, but Romney and Santorum have spent time and money in Georgia. The state’s population also has shot up more than 18 percent since Gingrich last held office there, in the late 1990s, a flood of residents who might have little memory of his time in government.
That has forced the campaign, which once confidently viewed Georgia as a guarantee, to refocus. Gingrich spent most of last week in Georgia, valuable time he could have spent campaigning in some of the other nine states holding contests Tuesday.
Low on cash, Gingrich’s cause has been aided by the outside group Winning Our Future, a super PAC that recently received another multimillion-dollar injection from Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson. The fresh funding bankrolled a large ad buy in states crucial to Gingrich’s strategy.
Gingrich boosters say Georgia and other states on the upcoming primary map share many characteristics with South Carolina, giving him a chance to rebound.
With Romney facing questions among conservatives, the new ads on the air and a long slate of primaries ahead, Gingrich might have little incentive to exit.
“With Santorum’s decline, I believe, Newt will re-emerge as the anti-establishment candidate with a record of economic success,” said Rick Tyler, a senior adviser to Winning Our Future and a former Gingrich aide. “The upcoming states are receptive to him and his message.”