Ann Armstrong looks on after giving Newt Gingrich a boxing puppet of himself… (Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Duluth, Ga. — Newt Gingrich launched his day of Super Tuesday campaigning in the state where he plotted his political rise from history professor to House speaker, telling the Chamber of Commerce in fast-growing Gwinnett County he was the only GOP candidate who could bring fundamental change.
Gingrich barely mentioned what had recently become a signature issue: his promise to boost energy production and bring down gas prices. Instead, he delivered an eight-minute discourse on the native genius of the Wright brothers, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
"I want you to think about the mindset I just described to you: adventurous, cutting edge, experimental, cheap, willing to fail, repetitive, focused on doing," instructed Gingrich, once a professor at West Georgia College in Carrollton. "And then I want you to look at Washington, D.C. The problem with the country is really simple. You can't get there from here."
Without dramatic change, he said, it would not be possible to have an intelligent Environmental Protection Agency, a pro-learning Education Department or a truth-telling State Department.
"The truth is that I have opponents who are – in a normal period – adequate, but they don't have anything like the scale of change I just described to you," he said.
Gingrich, noting that Mitt Romney has vastly outspent him, argued that his own candidacy has been repeatedly pronounced dead but continues to survive on the strength of his ideas. Insisting that no Republican candidate will be able to out-raise the president, he said, "The only hope we have to beat Obama is to have better ideas communicated clearly."
Rick Strawn, a 60-year-old former police officer who owns a security company, said he has been familiar with Gingrich's positions for years. "I like his general philosophy, where he stands on the issue as for a big overall change," he said.
He said that a vote for Romney was a vote for the status quo and that Rick Santorum has not stuck to the main issue: the economy. "Santorum is a great guy, but, like a lot of the party, he's too focused on putting social issues out," he said. "This continued escalation, just beating everybody up, I don't think it's good for the party; I don't think it's good for the country."
Addressing about 150 people at the chamber's enormous headquarters, Gingrich also appealed to their civic pride and reminded them of his Georgia ties. Born in Pennsylvania, he moved to Georgia in 1960 as a high school junior when his step-father, a career Army officer, was assigned to Ft. Benning. He graduated from high school in Columbus and Emory University in Atlanta. Gingrich represented the state in Congress for 20 years until 1999. He is now a consultant, author and strategist and lives in McLean, Va., near Washington.
Gingrich noted that his first visit to Gwinnett County came when he ran a congressional campaign in 1964 for a candidate who worked for Jesse Jewel, a Georgia legend who turned a family feed business into what was once the world's largest poultry company.
"I was thinking back to my very first trip as a, frankly, pretty wet-behind-the-ears, Yankee-born Army brat to what was then Lawrenceville, which was a very small town in the middle of the countryside on a two-lane road," he said. "And it amazes me every time I come back to Gwinnett County just how much things have changed, how dramatic the prosperity's been and how much you are part of one of the most dynamic metropolitan areas in the country."
The population of the county, which is northeast of Atlanta, is now about 10 times larger than it was when Gingrich first visited. It grew about 37% in the last decade.
Although there are 10 Super Tuesday primaries, Gingrich has concentrated on Georgia. He has not won a state since his stunningly strong victory in South Carolina's primary rattled Romney, but he appears set to win in Georgia. He has led in every poll in the state. In surveys released this week, his margin ranged from 10 points to 26 points.