A small red jerry can sits on each table in Newt Gingrich’s Cobb County campaign office, in the heart of the district he once represented in Congress. The containers are a reminder to his volunteers of their immodest favourite son’s most grandiose promise yet.
The $2.50 price tag stuck on each can represents Mr. Gingrich’s vow to cut the cost of a gallon of gas to that alluring level if he’s elected President in November.
Considering that most Americans are now paying around $4 a gallon, and may face $5 gas by summer, the ex-Speaker’s pledge sounds an awful lot like the “baloney” he daily accuses President Barack Obama and his own Republican rivals of promulgating.
But after watching his nomination prospects shrivel since his brief surge in January, Mr. Gingrich cannot afford to be timid. He needs a massive win in Tuesday’s Georgia GOP primary to stay in the race. And if it takes a gusher of a promise to get there, so be it.
The question Mr. Gingrich faces on Super Tuesday, however, is whether a victory in Georgia alone will be enough to put him back in contention or simply a consolation prize to ease the humiliation of what, at 68, could be the end of a lifelong presidential dream.
There is a chance Mr. Gingrich could live on if a huge Georgia win refuels his campaign, in money and volunteers, for coming primaries in Mississippi and Alabama. But big losses on Tuesday in Oklahoma and Tennessee, where he trails Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney in the polls, would expose the flawed logic of his so-called Southern strategy.
Out of desperation or the adrenalin that comes with having your back against a wall, Mr. Gingrich seems to have exceeded his own capacity for hyperbole. Infuriatingly inflammatory for his critics, no one can deny his gift for wedge politics.
“You do have this weird situation where President Obama apologizes to Islamic extremists while waging war against the Catholic Church,” Mr. Gingrich told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday. “You have a President who voted for infanticide as a state senator, who represents the most extreme pro-abortion position in America.”
The former House of Representatives Speaker has repeatedly seized on Mr. Obama’s apology to President Hamid Karzai over the accidental burning of Korans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. The incident was greeted with outbreaks of violence.
And Mr. Gingrich never misses a chance to slam Mr. Obama’s so-called contraception mandate, even though the President specifically exempted Catholic institutions from paying for birth-control coverage in their employee health plans.
“This is the most fundamental assault on religious liberty in American history despite every effort by the elite media to distort what it’s about,” Mr. Gingrich said on Sunday.
If Mr. Gingrich has plenty of detractors, even here in the 6th Congressional District he represented for two decades until 1999, he still inspires more awe than enmity in Georgia.
Ginger Roberts, who runs the Cobb County office, admits she is not sure how Mr. Gingrich could bring down the price of gasoline with fears of a confrontation with Iran looming and surging oil consumption in China sending global demand ever higher.
Mr. Gingrich has not been terribly specific either, other than to suggest it involves a lot of drilling, fracking and Canada-U.S. pipeline building. But he is thus lionized by his supporters here that they do not need to read the fine print on his promises.
“I just trust that Newt can do it,” Ms. Roberts says. “He’s super, super intelligent. He just gets what’s going on in America.”
One after another, Mr. Gingrich’s volunteers sing his praises with the same refrain.
“He’s got all the answers. He’s very brilliant.,” insists Judy Martin, 63, an unemployed legal assistant.
“He just knows more than anybody else,” adds Roy Barnes, 81, a retired computer systems analyst.
Blind or not, their faith in Mr. Gingrich extends for many Georgians to gas prices. An Atlanta Constitution-Journal poll released Sunday showed that 36 per cent of Republican primary voters in Georgia believe Mr. Gingrich can deliver on his promise of $2.50 gas.
Overall, Mr. Gingrich had the support of 38 per cent of GOP voters going into Tuesday’s primary, compared to 24 per cent for Mr. Romney and 22 per cent for Rick Santorum.
With 76 delegates up for grabs, more than any other Super Tuesday state, Georgia is a juicy prize. If Mr. Gingrich can hold his rivals to less than 20 per cent of the vote each, he could keep all of those delegates for himself.
No wonder Winning Our Future, a pro-Gingrich Super PAC, is airing an anti-Romney attack ad in Georgia that complements Mr. Gingrich’s promise of $2.50 fuel.
“Romney,” a women in the ad says, “is not the type to pump his own gas.”