Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with his wife, Callista, speaking to… (John Bazemore / Associated…)
Reporting from Vinings, Ga. — Newt Gingrich, racking up a Super Tuesday win in the state where he launched his extraordinary political rise, predicted he would win the GOP nomination despite opposition from the nation's elites because "people power" will trump "money power."
"We survived the national elites' effort to kill us," he told a boisterous crowd of more than 400 supporters in a ballroom at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel, where he said he was when he learned in 1994 that the Republicans had taken over the House. "Wall Street money can be beaten by Main Street work."
Gingrich noted that political observers had predicted other Republican candidates would eclipse him, and he pointed out that they are now gone from the race. The latest, he said, is Rick Santorum. "There are lots of bunny rabbits that run through. I am the tortoise," he said.
Supporters waved placards that said "Newt-a-Mania" and others that showed a gas pump reading 2-5-0, a reference to Gingrich's promise to bring the price down to $2.50 a gallon. An exit poll in Georgia suggested Gingrich's emphasis on gas prices could be catching on. More than 9 in 10 voters said they were a factor in their vote, and almost half of those voted for Gingrich.
Gingrich spent much of his victory speech recounting how he was pronounced dead by the media and the GOP establishment and then revived. He concluded with a lengthy discourse on what has become a central issue in his campaign: his plan to lower gas prices. He called his target price practical, doable and cautious and suggested voters listen to a 30-minute speech on his website. Saying he has been accused on pandering, he retorted, "This is called leading."
Gingrich had focused most of his attention in the last week on Georgia, but hoped to pick up delegates in Oklahoma and Tennessee. He was not on the ballot in Virginia, although he now lives in McLean, a wealthy enclave across the Potomac River from Washington.
The former speaker was counting on a victory in Georgia, home to the district he represented for 20 years in Congress, to boost him in upcoming contests. He has not won a state since South Carolina.
"I want you to know, in the morning, we are going on to Alabama, we're going on to Mississippi, we're going on to Kansas -- and that's just this week," he said to cheers.
Gingrich once represented a congressional district that stretched from Atlanta's southern suburbs to the Alabama state line. Although he started this election day with a speech to the Chamber of Commerce in fast-growing, vote-rich Gwinnett County, Gingrich traveled to Alabama for an afternoon rally at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville.
Among the 10 Super Tuesday states, Georgia was the prize, with 76 delegates. But many will be awarded proportionally, so Gingrich will likely share some with his competitors.
CNN and Fox News, relying on exit surveys, called Georgia for Gingrich just after the polls closed, sparking a cheer from about 100 supporters who almost immediately returned to talking. With almost no results in, the former House speaker tweeted: "Thank you Georgia! It is gratifying to win my home state so decisively to launch our March Momentum."
Gingrich, who calls himself a "Yankee-born Army brat," was born in Pennsylvania and lived around the world, but moved to Georgia as a high school junior in 1960. He taught history at West Georgia College, where he plotted his political career. He was first elected to Congress in 1978. He left in 1999, resigning after the party suffered devastating election losses.
Exit polls in Georgia showed that Tuesday's turnout was heavily conservative, with 7 out of 10 voters describing themselves as either very conservative or somewhat conservative. Gingrich won almost half of those voters, as well as almost half of the voters who said they supported the tea party movement and half of the voters who said they were white evangelical Christians.
Gingrich won voters of all age groups, but he tied Ron Paul for voters between 18 and 29 years old. He won voters of all educational levels, except the most highly educated, who went for Mitt Romney. And he won voters of all income levels, except those earning more than $200,000, who supported Romney, the wealthiest GOP candidate.
Gingrich, who converted to Catholicism when he married his third wife, lost the Catholic vote by 10 points to Romney, but won almost half of the Protestant vote.
He won Georgia even though voters said Romney was more likely to beat President Obama. But a third also said Gingrich's ties to Georgia mattered; three-quarters of them voted for him.