Gingrich Finds Warm Welcome in Cobb
But even his supporters and former constituents doubt whether the former House speaker can win.
Turnout was heavy for a rally held by Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich in his home state Saturday, but some of his former Cobb County constituents are unsure whether he can win Georgia's presidential primary March 6, let alone the Republican nomination.
Gingrich served as Georgia’s 6th Congressional District representative for 20 years, four of those as speaker of the House. In the rally held in his former district at the Atlanta Marriott Northwest, he touted his congressional record.
“These are three numbers: $1.13, 4.2 and four,” he said. “One dollar and thirteen cents was the price of gasoline on average when I was speaker. Four-point-two percent was the unemployment rate when I left office. And four was the number of years that the 1997 Balanced Budget Act balanced the federal budget—the only time in your lifetime it’s been balanced for four years. I might add to that the number two-thirds because when we passed welfare reform, two out of three people on welfare either went to work or went to school.”
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It was his third Georgia rally of the day, after stops with former presidential candidate Herman Cain in Suwanee and Cumming. Gingrich's wife, Callista, also made an appearance in Buckhead on Saturday.
Elected officials at the Cobb rally included Rep. Phil Gingrey, former Rep. Bob Barr, state Sen. Judson Hill, state Rep. Judy Manning and Cobb Board of Education Chairman Scott Sweeney.
Gingrich’s remark that Republicans’ only opponent should be President Barack Obama was met with rounds of applause, as did his claim that he can “survive Santorum.”
So far Gingrich has won only one presidential primary, in neighboring South Carolina.
William Randolph is an engineer from East Cobb who cast an absentee vote for Gingrich on Friday. Randolph said he supports Gingrich because he’s familiar with his politics and conservatism.
“I don’t know that Newt is going to win the Georgia primary, but I decided to make sure that he at least had my vote,” he said. “It could be an outsider step in at the last minute to win the nomination. It might be Newt. It might be Romney. I don’t know. There are way too many delegates still to be earned in the primary.”
Katie Vines of Johnson City, TN, drove almost five hours to attend the rally, but when asked if Gingrich could defeat the president, she replied, “Probably not.”
“Mitt Romney would be able to defeat Obama when it came down to it,” Vines said.
Andrew Young, a resident of Marietta, brought his two young sons, Ethan and Micah, to the rally at the Atlanta Marriott Northwest. He was split between Rick Santorum and Gingrich before the rally and left still undecided.
Some of the rally’s attendees were more optimistic. Grant Thomas, a freshman at the University of Georgia, brought his younger brother, Andrew, an Acworth resident. He said he thought Gingrich’s former constituents in Georgia would be loyal to their former representative on Super Tuesday.
Thomas wasn’t so sure about the Republican presidential nomination, however.
“He’s kind of behind now, but it’s been a crazy race,” he said. “Santorum, Cain, Bachmann, there’s always been a new front-runner. Anything could happen. We’re really hoping Newt could get some support and win.”
Others left inspired that Gingrich could be the candidate to defeat Obama in the fall. Diane Smith of Acworth said she came to the rally feeling anxious about the state of the Republican Party and the campaign.
“I’m feeling better than I did,” she said. “I’m a little disheartened with the Republican Party with all the friction that’s going on because I am concerned what it will do as far as our strengths to go up against Obama.”
Smith said she supports Gingrich because of his views on unemployment. At the rally, the former House speaker proposed modifying unemployment compensation so that recipients have to sign up for business-led training programs to acquire new skills.
“That’s the only way you’re going to get out of this,” she said. “People have to be responsible for their actions. They can’t rely on the government. If they’re able-bodied, then they should be able to have resources. There’s a limit to everything."
Several supporters agreed with Smith that Gingrich is the only Republican candidate who could defeat Obama in a debate.
Backing His Message
Linda King of Dallas is the co-chair of Gingrich’s Paulding County campaign.
“He has the right message,” she said. “I just think he’s the best one for the nomination. I think in debates with Obama he’s got him packed right down.”
Thomas Owen, a longtime Gingrich supporter and Doraville resident, echoed King’s comments.
“Don’t ever underestimate Newt Gingrich,” he said. “It’s not over with. If Newt can’t get it, I don’t think anybody in America can get it. That would be the best thing in the world, to see Obama and Gingrich debate.”
Ashford Schwall of Atlanta is a Gingrich supporter who thinks he’ll have no problems winning the Georgia primary and could “absolutely” go on to win the Republican presidential nomination. Schwall said he supports Gingrich because of his conservative views, especially about the environment.
“If I had to narrow it down, it would be the whole concept of ripping out what’s bad and replacing it with what’s going to work,” he said. “One thing that comes to mind is what he said about the EPA. Just rip it out and replace it with the Environment Solutions Agency. It makes a lot of sense to me. They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t have a clue what’s going on.”
Saturday's rally won’t be Gingrich’s last stop in Cobb County before Super Tuesday. He’s also scheduled to speak at a Cobb Chamber of Commerce breakfast Thursday, March 1, at 7:30 a.m. at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.