Tuesday was meant to be Newt Gingrich’s moment, in which after a fallow February his presidential campaign could rebound by showing strength in the Republican Party’s Southern core.
But by claiming only a single victory in the state he once represented in Congress, Gingrich's viability -- even as a regional candidate -- is in doubt.
Gingrich took a blowout win in Georgia, called by television networks as polls closed to a round of cheers in a Cobb County hotel ballroom, but it would be his only Super Tuesday triumph: Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum bested Gingrich in Tennessee and Oklahoma, where Gingrich had attempted to compete.
In a race of unpredictable swings, Gingrich has vowed since his humbling in Florida that he would rise again. His path remains difficult, but the former U.S. House speaker's team insists a South-heavy primary schedule in the coming weeks gives him the opportunity for momentum.
Amid persistent questions, Gingrich has felt the need to prove that he is remaining in the race beyond Tuesday, and his campaign took the unusual step of releasing a schedule a week in advance showing trips to Alabama and Mississippi -- both of which vote March 13 -- and Kansas, which holds its caucuses Saturday.
He also paid a visit to Huntsville, Ala., Tuesday afternoon, before flying back for his Cobb County rally.
“With your help and a win next week we could really be in a totally new race, and I’m very excited about it,” he told several hundred supporters in the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, a speech that focused on Gingrich's plans to revive the space program.
Gingrich returns to Alabama today for a three-stop swing from Montgomery to Birmingham, where he will be for the first time accompanied by the Secret Service.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Santorum already have Secret Service details, a service reserved for "major candidates."
Romney remains the clear leader in Republican convention delegates after Super Tuesday, while Santorum and Gingrich continue to fight to be the champion of the party's right flank. When Gingrich earned his first win in South Carolina and was riding high in the polls, he strongly hinted that Santorum should drop out. Now the tables are turned, as Santorum picked up some wins and momentum in February.
Analysts said Gingrich's win in Georgia does little to alter that trend.
“He has huge problems," said Merle Black, an Emory University political scientist. "He can probably campaign successfully in Alabama and Mississippi, but that is a Deep South strategy. And he really needs a broader strategy than that.”
Brookings Institute scholar Bill Galston concluded, "I don’t see him with any realistic shot of winning the nomination at this point."
Gingrich staffers insist that there is a path to the nomination, and have stressed how the nomination race remains in its early stages. Two new factors are in play this year that could lengthen it considerably.
The first is proportional allocation of delegates, a change for the Republican Party in the 2012 cycle allowing different campaigns to pick up delegates even while one is on a winning streak. The second is the rise of Super PACs, which can take in and spend unlimited sums on behalf of -- but not in coordination with -- campaigns.
One big donor, in Gingrich's case Nevada billionaire Sheldon Adelson, can prop up a candidate. Adelson has given the pro-Gingrich Winning Our Future Super PAC well more than $10 million. The group has produced pro-Gingrich advertising nationally and in key states.
"As long as he has the Adelsons and others funding him, why would he drop out?" said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato.
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond pointed out that Gingrich has done well in the states where he has not been massively outspent by the pro-Romney forces, and that Romney and Santorum will be exposed as insincere conservatives in the stretch of the country running from western South Carolina to West Texas.
"Every primary that’s here forward is a fair shot for us," Hammond said. "You can't fake being conservative in those states."
Lingering at the Gingrich primary night party Tuesday night, Rick Tyler, a former Gingrich aide helping run the Winning Our Future Super PAC, said the group is airing advertisements in Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi and predicted Gingrich victories in the latter two states. The group was advertising in Tennessee, too, but Tyler said the state "just didn't come together."
Gingrich's history in the party, Tyler predicted, would buoy him in the South.
"The whole South turned Republican under Speaker Gingrich," he said. "They won't forget that."
Tuesday night Gingrich noted that the location, Cobb County's Waverly Hotel, was the same place he spent Election Night 1994. That night's result represents the most prominent line on his resume: Architect of the historic Republican takeover of the U.S. House that made him speaker.
Gingrich's 1-for-10 night was hardly the same tidal wave, but he did his best to revel in the Georgia win.
"It's more than a chapter in the race for the nomination," Gingrich said. "It's a chapter in the fight for the soul of the Republican Party. "
Jeremy Redmon contributed.
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