Carving out some space in the deep South

Newt Gingrich didn’t finish his Super Tuesday bid in his home state of Georgia, where he handily carried the Republican poll with a 22-point lead. Facing an uphill battle for relevance among the party’s faithful, Newt couldn’t afford to rest on his laurels, but instead turned his victory into a stump for his next target: Alabama.
Newt spent the back half of the week campaigning in two Gingrich-like states, states that may have easily become also-voted, but whose primaries have gained larger relevance in a race for the nomination that is still so very undecided.  Having picked up South Carolina and Georgia, Gingrich has focused his campaign in the week after Super Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi, while relinquishing the campaign in Kansas
So far, the effort is paying off.  A Rasmussen telephone survey released Friday reveals that among likely Republican voters in Alabama, Gingrich has a one-point lead in a neck-to-neck-to-neck three-way near-tie with Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Only two points separate Romney, the current third-place holder from Gingrich. In Mississippi, Gingrich’s lead seems to be slightly more convincing – four points.
The only southerner among the three, Gingrich does not have to prove himself to Alabama and Mississippi voters by touting a newly-discovered y’all or taste for grits like Romney recently did. But he does have to explain – in campaigneese – why, beyond the geographic affinity, southerners – or anyone else - should support him.
Romney leads among women, and Romney leads among the most wealthy, and Santorum leads among those who vote on conservative values and in the working class. Romney leads among those who are most concerned about electing a candidate who can beat Obama, and Santorum leads among those who are most concerned about electing a candidate who has a strong moral character.
There’s not a lot of room there for Newt, but he’s still fighting to carve some out.
Newt Gingrich didn’t just finish his Super Tuesday bid in Alabama – he did it at Space Camp in Huntsville. There is honestly no cynicism in my voice when I say that Newt leads among those who want a lunar colony.
One of those people who would probably support the lunar colony is my three-year-old. When I was in preschool, I was determined to be the world’s first female space rabbi. I watched every shuttle launch religiously. The closest I can do for my son is to show him old launches on YouTube or maybe, if he’s lucky, take him to watch the Discovery towed to its final resting place at the Udvar-Hazy campus of the Air and Space Museum. Gingrich’s moon colony may appeal to my son, but it is also possible that he is on to something – talking about a big, audacious vision. Mmmm….like a hopey changey thing.
Gingrich has another talking point too, that speaks particularly loudly in the rural south: gas prices.
Gingrich, campaigning in Mississippi, has been signing all of his Twitter posts with the hashtag  “#250gas” throughout the day. He is trying to drum up support for his promise (support for a promise?) to reduce gas prices to $2.50/gallon should he be elected. Promise, rather than plan, because is fairly unclear as to where the $2.50 number comes from.
To borrow a card from yet another Democratic campaign slogan, this is a sort of an “economy, stupid” thing. It is something tangible, that people care about and are constantly reminded of every time they refuel. It involves one number – easy to comprehend – sort of like Herman Cain’s 9-9-9. It’s a promise that will stick in people’s heads when they are asked what Gingrich plans to do. Never mind that it’s very hard to find how, in the short term, he plans to do it.
But this is what Gingrich has to run with. He can try, as he did in a webvid released this week, to attack Santorum from the right – but probably doesn’t really want to go head-to-head with Mr. Family Values in an attempt to court like-minded voters. He could try – as he did in the past – to attack into Romney’s electability against Obama and his ability to lead the Republican Party in Washington – but he already discovered that discussions of his own Washington leadership have opened up some messy pitfalls.
Creativity, however, is an asset for Gingrich, and he will need it if he is going to remind voters – even in his own deep South – why they should cast a ballot for him. Wins in Alabama and Mississippi will keep him in to fight another day – and to give him more chances to carve out his own niche as a third voice.
(Rebecca Anna Stoil)