With Super Tuesday just two days away and with Georgias 76 Republican presidential nomination delegates representing the biggest prize up for grabs among 10 state contests, all four GOP candidates are scrambling for a strong showing in the Peach State.
Newt Gingrich, leading in recent Georgia polls, is banking on his home-state status to draw support away from Rick Santorum, running second in Georgia but fresh from strong finishes in other states. Mitt Romney seeks to shore up his status as putative national front-runner, and Ron Paul soldiers on in hope of a major upset.
No one will know the real outcome until Tuesday night, but The Telegraph turned to Republican Party chairs in Middle Georgia for their perspective on likely results, both locally and statewide. Opinions were mixed.
Honestly, its all over the board, said Joannah Hollis, Baldwin County Republican Party chairwoman. I do know that there are some Ron Paul enthusiasts that have shown some activism in the county.
Shes heard from some that if Paul doesnt get the national nomination, his local backers may vote for a third party in the fall or sit out the election, she said.
That is obviously disheartening, Hollis said.
She expects Gingrich to take Georgia overall, though perhaps not by much. Romney may not garner much support outside of urban areas, Hollis said.
She will support the eventual Republican nominee, no matter who it is -- and shes not giving away her preference now.
I tend to keep my vote private, but I will be voting nonetheless, Hollis said.
Suzanne Wood, chairwoman of the Bibb County Republican Party, thinks Gingrich has a really good chance of winning the state, partly due to his Georgia ties.
Its funny about Newt: You either love him or you hate him, she said.
Wood thinks enough Georgians love Gingrich to give him the overall victory, but locally, shes not so sure.
Ive not heard one name dominate in Macon, she said. Representatives of all four candidates have been active in Bibb County.
And all four of those are still trying to convince her.
Im still undecided, quite frankly, and I might still be undecided when I walk in there on Tuesday, Wood said.
Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who nearly beat Romney in his home state of Michigan, should present a hot challenge to Georgias native candidate in Crawford County, predicts local Republican Chairman Charles Cook.
Its going to be a close call, I think, between Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, he said. I really, personally, myself, think its going to be Santorum.
That reflects conversations Cook has heard, and his own preferences.
Im going to go with Santorum, he said.
The statewide result is uncertain, but Cook said hell be glad when a clear winner emerges, whoever it is.
Just get it here and get it over with, he said.
I honestly believe by talking to people in my local party, here and throughout the state, I believe Newt Gingrich will take my county as well as the state, said Houston County Republican Party Chairman Aaron Hufstetler,
He thinks Santorum will draw away some votes that would otherwise go to Gingrich, but Gingrich should be able to prevail, he said.
Hufstetler would like to see good conservative people of any political affiliation turn out to vote, he said.
Thats the only way were going to take our country back, Hufstetler said.
Party rules dont allow him to voice his personal support for a primary candidate, he said.
For now, Jones County Republican Chairwoman Kimberly Schwartz is using recent poll numbers to predict that Gingrich will win the state and, perhaps, Jones County as well.
But its a long time between now and next Tuesday and anything can happen, she said.
Like Hufstetler, Schwartz said party rules wont allow her to state her personal choice. But she doesnt see a protracted, contentious primary as a bad thing.
Its doing what its supposed to do, vetting everyone thoroughly, Schwartz said.
Anything goes, both in Laurens County and statewide, said Republican Party Chairman Hugh Lentile III.
Unfortunately, I have no information to make that sort of assumption, he said. Its so fluid right now its unbelievable.
That pervasive uncertainty is personal as well.
To be honest with you, I dont have a candidate in mind at this point, Lentile said. For a snap decision, hed choose Santorum -- but that could change before he pulls the lever on Tuesday, he said.
Phil Viviani, Republican chairman for Monroe County, said he has no idea how the primary will turn out -- and hes not asking or encouraging anyone to support a particular GOP candidate.
Thats the way we like it. We dont tell anybody how to vote, he said.
The primary process should play itself out, whatever result that brings, Viviani said.
But his hands-off attitude hasnt been mirrored by the various campaigns.
Ive heard from Romney people, Gingrich people, Santorum people -- Ive heard from all of them, Viviani said.
Both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have a lot of support in Peach County and in south Georgia, said Tom Morrill, Republican chairman in Peach County. That support stems from Tea Party members and the high concentration of evangelical Christians, he said.
I myself am supporting Mitt Romney, and I think Mitt will do very well in the Atlanta area, Morrill said.
All three of those candidates have their respective strengths, so its hard to pick a statewide winner, he said.
I just hope that we have a really good turnout for the primary, Morrill said. I think whoever comes out with the Republican nomination, we will all work to support them in the general election.
The nature of Twiggs Countys electorate makes it hard to predict a local winner, Republican Party Chairman Emmitt Sherling said.
Very few people admit that they vote Republican, but theyll probably be coming out of the closet, he said. I know so far the advance voting has been a little slow. There has not been that large of a turnout, but thats no indication of how its going to go.
Nor could he predict a winner statewide.
I really havent talked to that many people outside of Twiggs right now, so I cant say, Sherling said.
He wouldnt state a personal preference but said hes looking forward to the chance to participate.
I work hard to get voters out, but who they vote for, thats up to them, Sherling said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.