GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich has the endorsement of several high-profile Georgia Republicans, including Gov. Nathan Deal. But few of them believe Gingrich can win Georgia’s Super Tuesday primary with a big enough margin to allow him to claim all of the state’s 76 delegates.
“He’ll do well, but in next Tuesday’s primary, almost every candidate will get something out of Georgia,” said Sue Everhart, chair of the Georgia Republican Party. “I don’t think Newt will win with a 50-percent-plus-one margin. And endorsements from sitting governors don’t seal the deal.”
The governor appeared with Gingrich in Atlanta. Deal served with Gingrich in Congress beginning in the mid-1990s.
Last year, Everhart emerged from a vicious battle to win a second term as state party chair against a Deal-backed candidate. The contest also aroused the ire of Georgia’s Tea Party Patriots and Debbie Dooley, national coordinator for the organization. Everhart and her supporters, including Dooley, believed the new governor was using his office to take control of the state party with a hand-picked candidate.
“We don’t have anything against Gov. Deal,” Dooley said. “But his endorsement of Newt won’t have that much of an impact. I haven’t spoken to anyone who is making a decision based on that.”
Everhart was also supported in her bid by , who has not endorsed anyone in the race.
Gingrich has won endorsements from five Georgia congressmen, including U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Savannah, the state’s longest-serving Republican congressman. And he has the backing of 34 state lawmakers, including state Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, the chamber’s second-highest ranking member. [Fellow GOP contender Mitt Romney has endorsements from 20 state legislators.]
Other influential Georgia Republicans for Gingrich include Public Service Commissioners Stan Wise and Lauren "Bubba" McDonald, and former Georgia U.S. Sens. Mack Mattingly and Zell Miller, a Democrat who is serving as national co-chair of Gingrich's campaign.
Gingrich, who has been busy making appearances in Georgia to shore up support in his former home state, opened campaign offices in Augusta and Marietta to support his main campaign office in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood.
State lawmaker Harry Geisinger is one of Gingrich’s oldest supporters. The two met 47 years ago when the future House Speaker was so poor, “he didn’t have enough money to buy a six-pack of beer.
“So every now and then I’d come over to his apartment, set a six pack on his kitchen table, and we’d sit there and talk politics,” said Geisinger, now a Republican state House member from Roswell. “Three bottles of beer per person was a luxury back then.”
Geisinger said Georgia Republicans respect Gingrich's knowledge of the issues facing the country.
“There is no one who knows more about policy and substantive issues than Newt. Even those who are voting for and believe that.”
Geisinger introduced Gingrich last week when the candidate spoke to members of the state House, and he and Gingrich spoke several times last week.
“He’s the same person he was when I met him,” Geisinger said.
Another metro Atlanta supporter is Commissioner Elaine Boyer, a commissioner from heavily Democratic DeKalb County who met Gingrich in 1994 when he drafted the Contract with America.
“County commissioners don’t get a lot of attention,” Boyer said. “We’re the blue collar workers of the public servants world, but he actually called me personally and asked for my support.
“That shows me he’s looking for common people to support him, not the establishment types.”
Gingrich has admitted that to keeping his campaign alive.
So far, the pace of early voting in Georgia has been slow, and that could be a bad sign for Gingrich.
“The low early voting turnout should be troubling for Newt,” said Everhart, who has not endorsed anyone in the race.
“Business people like Romney, and the grassroots base seem to support Newt. His margin of victory is going to depend on how heavy the turnout is.
“He has got to get out the vote, but he’s doing the right thing, making appearances across the state,” she added. “And if there’s one thing that Newt Gingrich can do better than anyone else, it’s fire up a crowd.”