Raleigh, N.C. — Newt Gingrich headed back to North Carolina Saturday to try to rebuild momentum for his Republican presidential campaign that was in danger of getting swept away along with Rick Santorum's departure from the race.
Gingrich spoke to hundreds at a tea party rally on the Halifax Mall in downtown Raleigh. He praised young people at the rally for their activism and said he's also trying to stoke up conservative values with his campaign.
"What you are doing by being active is you're helping raise a real choice about the nature of America and a real choice about the future of the young people," Gingrich said.
He also spoke at a tea party rally in Greensboro and the Wilson County Republican Party election-year kickoff and toured the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte.
The former U.S. House speaker from Georgia spent time in Raleigh on Monday and New Bern on Tuesday – the day Santorum announced he was suspending his campaign. Gingrich said he still planned to keep campaigning, although acknowledging Mitt Romney was the GOP's likely nominee.
During a visit to Raleigh last week, Gingrich told WRAL that North Carolina residents can expect to see a lot more of him before the state holds its Republican presidential primary May 8.
The state has 55 delegates to offer – proportionally, like most other states, so the winner wouldn't take all. But Gingrich's two state wins so far have been in Georgia and South Carolina, and he's hoping to add the Tar Heel state to his W column.
"The fact that as a Georgian, I understand Southern values and the fact that I helped balance the budget four straight years and we helped pass welfare reform and I’ve actually done the things people want to get done are a huge advantage," he said.
Gingrich also said North Carolina will also be a key state during the general election in November.
"Obama understands that if he doesn't carry Virginia and North Carolina, he may not be elected," Gingrich said. "And so he's the first Democrat in modern times who has felt that he had to focus in these areas. And I think he's going to go all out.
A WRAL News Poll conducted in late March showed Gingrich running a distant third in North Carolina, with 18 percent support among likely Republican voters. Rick Santorum, who dropped out of the race for the White House, was in the lead at 34 percent, followed by Romney at 26 percent.