A Gingrich hopscotch that hinges on Georgia

ATLANTA, Ga. – Newt Gingrich is not leaving anything up to chance in his home state. With Herman Cain at his side warming up the crowds, the former House speaker barnstormed the Peach State Saturday with a kind of pace and gusto he hasn’t displayed since his second place finish in Florida.

“I believe we can pit people power against money power. I believe with your help we will win in Georgia,” Gingrich told a gathering of Forsyth County Republicans, who cheered for their native son.

Jan Jackson, of Midway precinct, called Forsyth County “Newt Gingrich’s stomping grounds. Santorum will be speaking tomorrow night. Herman Cain will be here. But this is kind of Newt’s backyard. He’s a Georgia boy.”

As Super Tuesday approaches, Gingrich is giving supporters a peek at his strategy board, describing a path to the nomination that relies heavily on collecting delegates in the South. He ticked off the states of Tennessee Oklahoma, Ohio, Alabama, Mississippi, and ultimately Texas – where Governor Rick Perry has endorsed him – as friendly states where he could be able to pick up delegates.

Gingrich also explained why he has interest in the notoriously liberal state of California, where he just wrapped up a four-day swing.

“There are a lot of folks in California who like the idea of inexpensive gasoline, and there are a lot of folks in California … who are really angry at Barack Obama about attacking religion,” Gingrich said, adding “It was a state that gave Barry Goldwater the nomination in ‘64 and it was a state that was very much for Ronald Reagan for a very long time ... I think we have a shot at the two biggest states in the country,” Gingrich said of Texas and California, whose contests fall much later in the calendar.

“But it all hinges on Georgia.”

The candidate promised to return next week for a bus tour and hinted actor Chuck Norris may join him.

With so much on the line, Gingrich has notably reined in his message on the stump, no longer fielding as many questions from the audience or going off on tangents.

More significantly, he has revived Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less, which was a proposal he helped launch in 2008. Gingrich is promising to create jobs and bring gas prices down to $2.50 a gallon as president by opening up federal lands for American energy production.

Gingrich didn’t mention Washington State or Arizona in his many answers to reporters Saturday on how he plans to win the nomination, but he will be toe-tapping through the Western states – which hold their contests prior to Super Tuesday -- later this week.

“With your help we are going to win the [Georgia] primary, that’s a big piece of winning Super Tuesday!” Gingrich said Friday as soon as he landed in the state. “When we win Super Tuesday, we are back in the game, and for the third time, we will be moving back towards frontrunner status!”