This week’s Republican presidential primaries in Mississippi and Alabama, resulting in dual victories by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, were widely regarded as the last stand of former Speaker of the House Gingrich, a second-place finisher in both states.
An intellectually adventurous sort regarded as a loose pistol in Republican Party establishment circles. Gingrich has risen from the dead already two, maybe three times, but it had been the consensus that anything less than a dual win this week would further cripple chances that were already hobbling.
The former Speaker made a visit last week to the Landers Center in nearby Southaven, where he addressed a rally of some 300 people crowded into a smallish side room within the sprawling amphitheatre. Signs among his supporters saying “Don’t Believe the Liberal Media” underscored the ironic nature of Gingrich’s candidacy at this point: His best showing, a late-January walloping of Romney in South Carolina, followed two debates in which he had scored rhetorical points against the “elite media,” but, without further victories to fuel his fund-raising, Gingrich is largely dependent on free media to get a hearing.
Ironically enough, Gingrich may have begun hitting on a theme — the high cost of gasoline — that could succeed him as a campaign issue. His Landers Center speech focused on his plan to reduce the current pump cost from its current $4 range to $2.50, which he contended was a demonstrably sustainable level. High gasoline costs have been cited as the major reason why recent polls show President Obama to be in jeopardy in sample match-ups with any of his potential Republican opponents.
Though Gingrich’s “Winning Our Future” Super-Pac received fresh infusions recently from benefactor Sheldon Adelson (rumored amount: $10 million), that is very likely the casino mogul’s last gift to the former Speaker.
During the run-up to the Tennessee presidential primary on Tuesday, March 6, neither Gingrich nor former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, struggling but still favored to win the GOP nomination, had visited Memphis, though each had made appearances elsewhere in Tennessee. The only candidate to actively campaign in Memphis was Santorum, who spent most of a day here on the Sunday before voting in Tennessee. Given the bleed-over from the Memphis media market into northern Mississippi that visit may have been a factor in Santorum’s success in Mississippi a week later.
The Memphis area may get one more close-up look at the three GOP contenders, if, as now appears possible, all three are still actively campaigning when Arkansas casts its presidential-primary votes on May 22. A West Memphis visit would appear to be a viable strategic option.