No question about it, if there ever was: Newt Gingrich is staking what’s left of his presidential candidacy on his appeal in the Deepest South. Having won only in SC and GA, he’s abandoing plans to campaign in Kansas and is concentrating every resource on winning primaries in the Super-South, Alabama and Mississippi, on March 13.
This is all richly ironic. An army brat born in Pennsylvania, Gingrich first moved to Georgia during high school. To this day, there is not a trace of a southern accent in his voice. During most of his congressional career, he represented a booming suburban Atlanta district that was getting less distinctively southern every day (I used to say it was not part of the South, but a collection of malls and subdivision where you could call the South toll-free, which was a lot funnier back when people paid long-distance phone rates). Indeed, in this week’s Georgia primary, metro Atlanta was far and away his weakest area.
Newt no longer lives in Georgia, but in northern Virginia, another place that is technically in the South, but is culturally a million miles away. His wife is from Wisconsin. Her main contribution to his life, both of them would agree, is his conversion to Roman Catholicism from his prior affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention (where he was actually ordained a deacon, which is a pretty big deal).
There are reasons, albeit complicated, why a man like Gingrich has become the candidate with the greatest appeal to hard-core rural conservatives. But the whole situation is complicated, anyway, since his main competitor for this vote is another Roman Catholic from his native Keystone State, while the hated front-runner is a Mormon from Michigan and Massachusetts who has won the Catholic vote in all but one primary.
We’ll soon see if Gingrich survives March 13 with wins in the very Heart of Dixie, though his path forward may well be determined not by rural southern voters but by a Jewish guy in Las Vegas who owes much of his fortune to Asian casinos.
Like I said, it’s complicated.