Newt’s Not-Even-Close-to-Last Stand
Gingrich has returned to the South to mount yet another comeback.
Photograph by Alex Wong/Getty Images.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.—“How many of you are on Facebook?” asks Newt Gingrich.
The crowd, a few hundred people inside a tastefully decorated quadrant of an airline hangar, skews old. There are only a few whoops of excitement, a few shakes of the new Gingrich signs that place the former House speaker’s name on a gas pump.
“Just raise your hand,” says Gingrich.
A few dozen people raise their hands. Success!
“When you get a chance, go to your Facebook page, and put in ‘Newt = $2.50 a gallon.’ That’ll spread, and spread. How many of you are on Twitter? When you get a chance, go to #250gas. That’s a new thing we’ve built on Twitter.”
At every stop today, a charter plane trip through eastern Tennessee on a 45-degree angle, Gingrich has talked up his energy plan. He is as meme-happy as any kid signing up for his first Tumblr. “Newt = $2.50 a gallon” will give him a better Super Tuesday result than all the eggheads predicted. Just look at this hangar: It’s a “great turnout,” just like the turnouts in Knoxville and Kingsport earlier today, just like the Georgia crowds he pulled all last week. Herman Cain, who endorsed Gingrich in Florida—Newt hasn’t won a primary since—gives the crowd an update on his trip to Oklahoma, the supposedly sure-thing Santorum state.
“Newt is surging in Tennessee,” says Cain, who still speaks about twice as loud as anyone else on his stage. “He's surging in Oklahoma. He's surging in a lot of places. We can do this!” Cain goes on to argue that Gingrich can win the Republican nomination because he beat Stage 4 cancer, and anything is possible. “Stay inspired!”
I’ve seen losing campaigns before, and this doesn’t feel like one. Technically, Gingrich isn’t really losing. Republican voters will start awarding 437 delegates today. Georgia voters control 72 of those delegates. They will award most of them to Gingrich, who represented some arriviste northwest Atlanta suburbs for 20 years, who campaigned here when Romney and Santorum were in Michigan. Neither of them can take Georgia away from Gingrich. Only Romney even made a recent stop here, serving pancakes at a Sunday event, notable because he avoided saying anything off-putting about his massive wealth.
So the Gingrich voter is staying put. “I want him to stay in until he wins,” says Esther Taj, a retiree trying to get Gingrich’s signature on her campaign sign. “The media’s been rough on him from the beginning. Of course they’re saying he should drop out.”
Matt Brown, a cement salesman, holds out a guitar for Gingrich to sign. He’d brought it to another Gingrich appearance, but forgot the silver Sharpie that really shows up on the black wood. The Sharpie made it with him this time. “It’s like NASCAR,” says Brown. “I’m in it until the race is over. No pit stops. Can you imagine if he wins Tennessee? I was looking at the polls on the way over here. He’s tied.”
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at him @daveweigel.