As the campaign to select the 2012 Republican presidential nominee enters its final stages, Newt Gingrich is hoping to get a head start on frontrunners Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in North Carolina.
Gingrich spoke Wednesday to a full house of students in the Lumina Theater at UNC-Wilmington. It was a last-minute decision, as UNC-W only confirmed Gingrich’s visit Friday.
Gingrich is the first candidate to launch his campaign in North Carolina. Romney is expected to come to the state by mid-April.
Bethany Greene, president of UNC-W College Republicans, which sponsored the event, said in an email that Gingrich likely decided to come to UNC-W to reach out to its large population of young voters, which often gets overlooked during political campaigns.
“However, we’re open and have been open to hosting other candidates’ events if they should ever get in touch with us,” Greene said.
Gingrich has said several times that he is committed to staying in the race, despite only winning a fourth of the delegates that Romney has amassed.
James Stimson, a UNC political science professor, said in an email that despite Gingrich’s preliminary efforts in N.C., the GOP nomination is now wrapped, with Romney as the clear winner. He said he doesn’t think Gingrich will be a strong candidate in N.C.
“Gingrich has only done well in Southern states,” he said. “North Carolina has become attractive because it is one of the few left.”
Garrett Jacobs, the new president of UNC College Republicans, said Gingrich knows North Carolina is one of his last possible victories, especially since Santorum is a virtual lock in Missouri and Romney will likely sweep the next few northeastern states.
He said Gingrich has only stayed in the running because, after four decades of running for political office, this is the final campaign for him.
“This is a two-man race, and it will be even more so by May 8,” he said. “It’s time that Republicans make a final decision about the nominee so that we can focus on November and defeating President (Barack) Obama.”
Austin Gilmore, president of UNC Young Democrats, said he agreed with Jacobs that Gingrich is a non-factor.
“His delegate situation is so weak,” he said. “He might just be too stubborn to quit.”
Romney and Santorum are currently focusing on Pennsylvania, where the primary will be held April 24. Santorum has a slight lead ahead of Romney in the state.
A poll conducted last week by Public Policy Polling, a left-leaning polling firm in Raleigh, shows Romney and Santorum tied at 30 percent in North Carolina. Gingrich follows with 19 percent, with Ron Paul lagging at 13 percent.
While Stimson said the extended selection process has resulted in an increased negative evaluation of Romney, he said Romney will still eventually clinch the Republican nomination.
“One of the greatest certainties in politics is that virtually all Republicans will support Romney in November, no matter what they say now,” he said.
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