ATLANTA--Newt Gingrich intends to recapture the national spotlight on Super Tuesday with a first-place win in his home state of Georgia, strong finishes in Tennessee and Oklahoma, and delegate pickups in Idaho, Ohio and North Dakota.
"Twice in this process I've been the frontrunner in national polling," Gingrich told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News on Sunday. "I think we have a chance to get back."
But after a series of mostly third- and fourth-place finishes and the decision to virtually sit out last week's high-profile contest in Michigan as well as Arizona, talk of Gingrich as a serious contender has waned. His Jan. 21 win in South Carolina's winner-take-all primary has been mostly forgotten, and he is in third place in the delegate race.
Still, Gingrich and his team say they're in for the long haul.
Gingrich is banking that strong support in his home state will hand him a delegate-rich win in Georgia, where 76 delegates are up for grabs--more than any other state on Super Tuesday. A loss in Georgia would spell the end of his campaign.
But Gingrich remains confident.
"I think I'll win Georgia by a much, much bigger margin than Romney won Michigan," Gingrich said Sunday.
"In southern Georgia people know what they're hunting," R.C. Hammond, a Gingrich spokesman, told Yahoo News, quoting a recent conversation. Romney has not made Georgia a priority--understandable given Gingrich's home state connection--but he and wife Ann Romney hosted a pancake brunch in Snellville, Ga., on Sunday.
Gingrich sat out last week's primaries in Michigan and Arizona to focus his resources on the South, a strategy outsiders say is expected as well as savvy. "Gingrich is smart to play to his traits and use what he has," Ron Bonjean, a longtime Republican congressional leadership aide turned public affairs representative, told Yahoo News.
Gingrich's campaign readily concedes that it remains at a financial disadvantage in the race. "It would be a much different race if [Romney] didn't have this money," Hammond said.
Still, Hammond argues the campaign's lack of resources means they are being smarter about allocation. "We're in a business of actually winning elections," Hammond said. "Not punching an hour clock." While you may not see Gingrich actively campaigning everywhere, Hammond said the campaign is advertising everywhere they want to be competitive.
Gingrich and his staff believe they can overcome Romney's financial advantage by offering "big ideas"--such as Gingrich's pledge to make $2.50 per gallon gas a reality--and by energizing conservative voters.
Hammond said Romney has become "very good at deceiving voters and keeping voters distracted from who he really is," but he believes the race is headed to places where that's no longer going to work.
Even though Romney has won five consecutive contests--which includes Saturday's non-binding Washington caucuses--the Gingrich camp remains convinced the contest for the Republican nomination will stretch on for many months. "Americans are used to having their nominee picked by Super Tuesday," Hammond said. "Not this time."
Gingrich is talking up contests in Kansas (Mar. 10), Alabama and Mississippi (Mar. 13), a yet-to-be-finalized primary in the delegate-rich state of Texas, (which appears headed for an election in late May and where Gingrich can boast the support of Gov. Rick Perry), and California, which isn't scheduled to vote until June 5.
Additionally, the Gingrich campaign is operating as if the candidate may still win delegates out of Florida and Arizona.
Gingrich placed second in Florida's winner-take-all primary Jan. 31, where 50 delegates were at stake and third in Arizona's winner-take-all primary, where 29 delegates were up for grabs. Gingrich has petitioned the Republican Party of Florida for failing to award delegates proportionally and Hammond says Arizona can expect a similar challenge. (Republican National Committee rules stipulate that any state holding a contest before April 1 must allocate proportionally.)
Unofficial counts of pledged delegates put Romney in first with 180, Rick Santorum in second with 90, Gingrich in third with 29 and Ron Paul in fourth with 23. A total of 1,144 delegates is needed to win the nomination.
Gingrich's third-place spot in the delegate race is doing the candidate no favors. On Saturday, the co-chairman of Gingrich's Tennessee campaign--state senator Stacey Campfield--announced his decision to switch allegiance to Santorum, whom he referred to as the conservative with the best chance of winning the presidency.
Despite Gingrich's confident rhetoric, many question whether he has any shot at winning the requisite number of delegates even if he regains some momentum.
"His path to the presidency is very slim at this point," Bonjean said.
Gingrich campaigned Monday in Tennessee, will appear in Georgia and Alabama Tuesday and has a full and detailed schedule planned through Mar. 10 in Alabama, Mississippi and Kansas.
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