By Carol Cain
WWJ-TV CBS Detroit
As the Republican presidential contest descends into 10 states on Super Tuesday, none is more vital for former speaker Newt Gingrich and his prospects than Georgia.
“It’s a must-win for Newt,” said Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to President George W. Bush who appeared on WWJ-TV CBS Detroit’s “Michigan Matters.”
“Georgia is as vital to him as Michigan was for Mitt Romney (native born Michigander who squeaked by with a victory in the popular vote over former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum last week).
But the state’s 30 delegates were split after a Michigan Republican committee voted Thursday to award 16 of the state’s 30 nominating delegates to the Republican National Convention to Mitt Romney, and the remaining 14 to Rick Santorum.
Polls show Gingrich with a lead in Georgia which he represented in Congress for over 20 years.
Gingrich did not campaign in Michigan as his strategy is to focus on Georgia in hopes of picking up traction in other Southern states. Georgia has 86 delegates up for grabs, the largest among the states Tuesday.
At this stage, Romney leads with 207 delegates; Santorum has 86; Texas Rep. Ron Paul has 46 and Gingrich is trailing with 39.
It will take 1,144 delegates to win the Republican nomination and face President Barack Obama this fall.
Fleischer, a Republican who is not supporting any candidate, said he might have done so had Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels or Wisconsin U.S. Rep Paul Ryan entered the field.
He said Obama was vulnerable with the continuing trillion dollar deficit and struggling economy.
“Unless things really improve in the next few months, I believe he is highly vulnerable,” Fleischer said.
Of the 10 Super Tuesday states, Ohio is one where Romney and Santorum have waged battle in hopes of adding its 66 delegates. That state will award its delegates proportionally to the winners of each congressional district. That’s the second most, behind Georgia.
Eugene Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist at the Washington Post, also appeared on the show and said Republicans in Washington were trying to be obstructionists on things like Medicare and Social Security reform to keep Obama from winning re-election.
“(Sen.) Mitch McConnell has decided to say ‘no’ to everything and made sure it is DOA (dead on arrival),” Robinson said. “Their number one goal is to defeat Obama for a second term.”
Looking ahead, Fleischer said Romney stood the best chance of taking on Obama in the fall campaign. But Santorum is raising issues that will resonate.
“The problem for Romney is Rick Santorum has lit a spark under social conservatism and each time Romney moves a bit more to the right that only hurts him in the fall contest,” Fleischer said.
Also appearing on the show was Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, business woman Denise Ilitch and Detroit Economic Club President and CEO Beth Chappell.
Both Romney and Santorum appeared at DEC luncheons before Michigan’s primary.
Some pundits made an issue of Romney’s stop at Ford Field.
“We had over 1,200 people at the Romney luncheon,” said Chappell.
When it was first announced, it was slated to take place at the Book Cadillac but sold out all 700 tickets in two hours. With few places available on short notice to handle the crowd, they decided on Ford Field.
“Typically, when we have events there we hold it in the atrium. But there were security concerns with all the glass,” Chappell said. “Plus, there was over 100 national media. So, we moved it to the field to accommodate everyone.”
Some national pundits, looking for a story, talked about the visual of a mostly empty football stadium (it can hold 60,000 people).
“That wasn’t the case,” said Chappell. “In fact, our members were thrilled with it and many said it was the best luncheon they had ever attended.”
Chappell also said Santorum also surprised many at his DEC business crowd luncheon.
“He stayed away from discussion of social issues,” she added.
Carol Cain is an Emmy winning journalist who is Senior Producer and Host of WWJ-TV CBS Detroit’s “Michigan Matters.” She writes about politics and business in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at 248-355-7126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.