A day after losing all but one Super Tuesday contest, Newt Gingrich retreated Wednesday to the Deep South, abandoning plans to campaign in Kansas in a gamble that victories next week in Alabama and Mississippi can salvage his quest for the Republican presidential nomination.
“We clearly have limited resources, and we decided that it would make sense to focus those limited resources on Mississippi and Alabama,” the former House speaker told reporters here after a rally in a hotel atrium.
The only state that Gingrich won Tuesday was Georgia, which he represented in Congress for 20 years. His hopes of picking up Tennessee and Oklahoma were dashed by victor Rick Santorum, whose popularity among evangelical Christians has made him more competitive in the South than Gingrich had expected.
Gingrich’s abrupt switch of travel plans reflected the grim political map that he faces in the weeks ahead. He called off a six-stop swing across Kansas that he and his wife had planned to make Friday and Saturday. It had included a Wichita tea party convention where Rep. Ron Paul of Texas plans to speak. Kansas will hold Republican presidential caucuses Saturday.
“Cancel your trip to Kansas, gang,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told the candidate’s traveling press corps. “You’re going to stay here.”
Hammond described Gingrich’s best path forward as a Southern sweep. The idea is to add Alabama and Mississippi next Tuesday to Gingrich’s previous wins in South Carolina and Georgia, followed by victories later in Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas.
But Santorum’s wins in Tennessee and Oklahoma suggest that success for Gingrich is far from certain. An Alabama State University poll last week found the former Pennsylvania senator holding a narrow lead over both Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Alabama.
In another sign of Santorum’s strength here, a Romney “super PAC,” Restore Our Future, has started airing a TV attack ad in Alabama challenging Santorum’s conservative stands on abortion and other issues.
At the Montgomery hotel rally, Gingrich, whose campaign was badly wounded by Romney super PAC attack ads in other states, accused Romney of trying to buy the election with negative ads funded by his Wall Street backers. His own campaign has been sustained largely by millions of dollars in donations by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson to a super PAC running ads for Gingrich. One of the ads, now airing in Alabama, depicts Romney as out of touch with Southern voters.
Gingrich also went after Santorum for opposing right-to-work measures in the Senate and mocked him for saying he had voted against his conscience at times in order to be a team player.
“There is a big difference between being a good team member and changing the team,” Gingrich said, adding that he had sometimes bucked fellow Republicans because “being committed to my conscience was more important than being part of a team that was doing the wrong thing.”
But Gingrich’s main target was President Obama, whom he cast as un-American. In a state where many question whether the Christian president is a Muslim, Gingrich used a cultural and religious framework to promote his pledge to cut the price of gasoline by expanding domestic energy extraction.
“If you want $9-a-gallon gasoline and bowing to Saudi kings, vote for Obama,” he said. “If you’d like $2.50 or less and be independent, vote for Newt Gingrich. If you want the most effective food-stamp president in American history, you ought to vote for Barack Obama. If you want somebody who’s going to create jobs and give you paychecks instead of food stamps, you want to vote for Newt Gingrich.”
Obama, he said, believes in radicalism and “European bureaucratic socialism,” but “if you want somebody who believes in the Declaration of Independence, our rights coming from our creator, vote for Newt Gingrich.”
Gingrich wrapped up by saying, “If you want someone who will apologize to radical Islamist fanatics while attacking the Catholic Church, vote for Barack Obama. If you want somebody who believes in religious freedom in America and is willing to say to the Saudis they ought to have religious freedom in Saudi Arabia too, vote for Newt Gingrich.”