Reinvigorated by a home state win in Georgia on Tuesday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is setting himself up for two more must-wins next Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi as he seeks to lay claim to the South.
“This race has been a roller coaster up and down,” Gingrich told a Jackson, Miss. audience Friday morning, drawing a roller coaster’s trajectory with his finger—completing a metaphor he’s adopted on the stump. “I believe with your help next Tuesday, when we win here and we win in Alabama, we’ll be back up again.”
In a signal of how much stock the campaign is placing in Mississippi and Alabama, Gingrich canceled a day-long campaign swing through Kansas—which votes in caucuses this Saturday—to instead campaign in the two states.
Gingrich is running at a financial disadvantage to Romney and has therefore been carefully picking his targets, risking a loss of momentum by sitting out difficult races such as primaries Feb. 28 in Michigan and Arizona.
Gingrich’s campaign continues to contend that Romney isn’t a “convincing” or able front-runner. In an interview with Yahoo News on Super Tuesday, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said Romney continues to fail to excite the base. “He’s not offering solutions,” Hammond said. He also argued that Gingrich continues to show grassroots donor strength, which will translate into votes in upcoming states, unlike Romney, who he said was funded by wealthy corporate donors and others who have “maxed out” their support.
But Gingrich’s chief opponent in Tuesday’s contests is not Romney, who has not been very successful at wooing conservatives and is not expected to fare well in Mississippi and Alabama. It’s Rick Santorum Gingrich must contend with if we wants to add to his two victories next week.
Santorum has already begun a concerted effort to push Gingrich out of the race and shore up Southern voter support.
“With Gingrich exiting the race, it would be a true head-to-head race and conservatives would be able to make a choice between a consistent conservative in Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney,” Stuart Roy, a spokesman for the pro-Santorum super PAC, said in a statement following Super Tuesday. “For instance, with Gingrich out of the race, Santorum would have won both Ohio and Michigan. Newt has become a hindrance to a conservative alternative.”
The pro-Santorum PAC said it would spend over $500,000 on television advertising in Alabama and Mississippi.
Gingrich referred to himself as the “tortoise”—a reference to the old tortoise and the hare fable—in his speech in Georgia on Tuesday night, when he won just 1 of 10 contests.
“It’s all right, there are lots of bunny rabbits that run through, I’m the tortoise,” Gingrich said in Atlanta. “I just take one step at a time.”