Gingrich’s Southern strategy off to a slow start
posted at 9:50 am on March 8, 2012 by Ed Morrissey
How can Newt Gingrich make up ground on Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, both of whom have won more state contests in the race, and both of whom lead Gingrich in national polling? The Hill reports that Gingrich will focus on a “Southern strategy,” winning primaries and delegates in the southeast and hope to build enough regional strength to tilt the race (via Instapundit):
Republican insiders believe Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign is on its last legs and say the former House Speaker could leave the race after Tuesday’s primaries in Alabama and Mississippi.
But they also said the famously unpredictable Gingrich could confound expectations and continue on, despite pleas from some conservatives to step aside and give Rick Santorum a head-to-head matchup with Mitt Romney.
A spokesman for Gingrich acknowledged Wednesday that the former Speaker needs to win both of Tuesday’s primaries in the South — considered Gingrich’s stronghold — to remain a credible candidate.
“Everything between Spartanburg [S.C.] all the way to Texas, those all need to go for Gingrich,” said spokesman J.C. Hammond, according to The Washington Post.
Gingrich won his home state of Georgia on Super Tuesday, the first primary victory for the former Speaker since January’s victory in South Carolina.
Can a Southern strategy exclude Tennessee? Gingrich came in third in the Volunteer State, a poorer showing than expected. Even his win in Georgia wasn’t all that impressive, as Eric Ostermeier shows in his analysis at Smart Politics. In the past 40 years, the only Republican presidential candidate to have done worse in a home-state primary was Pat Robertson in 1988:
During Newt Gingrich’s Tuesday night pep talk to his supporters, the former House Speaker bragged about his home state victory by explaining how the media called his win in Georgia as the first call of the evening, shortly after the polls closed.
However, in addition to the fact that only two other Super Tuesday states closed at the 7 pm EST hour, Gingrich’s victory – while a necessary condition to keep him in the race – was one of the least impressive home state presidential primary victories in modern political history.
A Smart Politics review of presidential primary contests finds that Newt Gingrich’s 47.2 percent performance in Georgia was tied for the second lowest support for a Republican presidential candidate in his home state since the 1972 cycle, and the lowest number for a winning candidate.
Aside from presidents running without opposition, there have been 16 GOP candidates over the last 40 years who have carried at least one state during the primary season – and still been active in the race when their home state primary or caucus came up on the calendar.
During our six-hour marathon radio show on Tuesday night, Hugh Hewitt argued that Gingrich’s win in Georgia was weak, although he didn’t exactly convince Guy Benson or myself. In a four-man race, a 21-point win looks pretty good, but these numbers look significant. On Eric’s chart, one has to go up six positions to find the Republican who won a general election — George H. W. Bush, who won Texas with 63.9% of the primary vote and a margin of victory of 49 points. Of course, the man with the best home-state number was Bob Dole in 1988, and we all remember how well Bob Dole did those primaries.
Jackie Koszczuk lays out the case for a Southern strategy in National Journal:
Just around the corner are primaries in Alabama and Mississippi, two states rich in the kinds of voters that make up Gingrich’s sweet spot: self-described as conservative, white and evangelical, economically downscale and generally enthralled with the tea party. They are the Republicans who flocked to him in Georgia and in his first big primary win in South Carolina. Yet they are also Santorum’s demographic and they were key to Santorum’s victories in Tennessee and Oklahoma on Tuesday. And that’s where things get interesting.
In Tennessee, according to the exit polls, 73 percent of voters described themselves as conservative (Santorum won 42 percent of them; Gingrich 25 percent; Romney 25 percent); 73 percent were white evangelicals (42 percent Santorum; 25 percent Gingrich, 24 percent Romney); 35 percent had incomes under $50,000 (40 percent Santorum, 25 percent Gingrich, 24 percent Romney); and 62 percent said they support the tea party (Santorum 39 percent, Gingrich 28 percent, Romney 25 percent).
From Gingrich’s point of view, he’s been competing with Santorum for this same segment of voters since the primaries began. And while Santorum won them in Tennessee, Gingrich really did no worse than front-runner Mitt Romney with those voters, and he in fact won them in Georgia. If you’re Newt Gingrich, why not see how things play out in the upcoming round, in Alabama and Mississippi on Tuesday (after the Kansas primary Saturday)?
Gingrich is setting up a one-on-one grudge match with Santorum for the conservative heart of the party in the South. Viewed that way, his continued participation is not pointless, but in fact serves a purpose for base Republican voters: Gingrich won them in South Carolina and Georgia. Santorum won them in Missouri, Tennessee and Oklahoma. The scorecard is roughly even. The question is, who has the best claim on the God-fearing, nine-to-five, government-loathing and generally p.o.’d segment of the Republican Party?
Alabama and Mississippi will decide on Tuesday. The conservatives’ battle with Romney will just have to wait.
That would be a good reason … if the point of the primary process was to figure out who should lose to Mitt Romney. The delegate math is almost impossible for either Santorum or Gingrich if they both remain in the race, and it merely improves to unlikely if one of them bows out. Given Santorum’s Super Tuesday performance, he has a better claim to stay in the hunt. The big question will be whether Gingrich will bow out after this week if he can’t win Alabama and Mississippi — and given his disappointing finish in Tennessee and relatively weak position in his “home” state (where he practically rebuilt the Republican Party), those two states are not going to be sure bets.