Local Politics

Gingrich: Goal is to beat Obama

Posted April 4, 2012 11:31 a.m. EDT
Updated April 4, 2012 6:52 p.m. EDT

— Despite his continued criticism of front-runner Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said Wednesday that he and other candidates would rally around the eventual nominee in order to defeat President Barack Obama in the fall elections.

Gingrich visited WRAL as one of his first campaign stops in North Carolina, which holds its primary on May 8. He spoke at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington later in the day.

He predicted that the state is "very much in play" for him and other candidates if former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum wins the primary in his home state of Pennsylvania later this month. It also will play a key role in November.

"Obama understands that, if he can't carry Virginia and North Carolina, he might not get elected," Gingrich said.

The former Georgia congressman and U.S. House speaker said he's encouraged by his showing in recent polls in North Carolina, and he said he plans to use his Southern roots and his ties to the state – his oldest daughter attended Davidson College and lived in Greensboro – to appeal to voters.

"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.

A WRAL News Poll conducted two weeks ago showed Gingrich running a distant third in North Carolina, with 18 percent support among likely Republican voters. Santorum was in the lead at 34 percent, followed by Romney at 26 percent.

Romney won Tuesday primaries in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C., putting him more than halfway to the number of delegates needed to capture the GOP nomination.

Gingrich noted, however, that Romney's victories are by large margins and that he and Santorum together are capturing the majority of votes in many primaries.

"Our goal is to get to the convention with Romney below 1,144 (delegates) and have a genuinely open convention," he said. "Have the people decide who can do the best job of debating Barack Obama (and) who can do the best job of winning the general election."

The Republican National Convention is scheduled for Aug. 27-30 in Tampa, Fla.

William Peace University political science professor David McLennan said Gingrich is running out of time – and primary states – thanks to changes the Republican Party made after 2008.

"The Republicans wrote the rules so that you have to win five states to even to be considered in an open convention. He's got a ways to go even to meet that threshold," McLennan said.

Gingrich's only wins to date are in Georgia and South Carolina. His 135 delegates are far behind Romney's 655 and Santorum's 278.

Fifty-five delegates are up for grabs in North Carolina's primary. They will be awarded proportionally, based on the percentage of votes to each candidate.

Even if Gingrich wins North Carolina, McLennan said, Romney's nomination looks nearly inevitable from a mathematical perspective.

"Even though North Carolina on May 8th may be in play, technically, it may be all over but the shouting," he said.

Gingrich said that, if Romney has the delegates to win the nomination before the convention, he, Santorum and Texas Congressman Ron Paul would all line up behind him in order to defeat Obama.

"We cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama," he said. "Compared to Barack Obama, it's easy to support Romney or Santorum. ... All three of us are committed to defeating Barack Obama."

The GOP candidates have bickered for months during the primaries and caucuses over who would provide the best alternative to Obama, but Gingrich said those fights will eventually lead to a better candidate in the fall. He cited the 2008 election where U.S. Sen. John McCain locked up the Republican nomination early and Obama and former U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton battled for months on the Democratic side before Obama captured the nomination.

"The morning this (primary campaign) is over, whoever the nominee is, and the choice is clearly Obama and the Republican and the issue becomes Obama's record, you'll see the Republican candidate rise very dramatically," he said.