Newt’s home field advantage was among the weakest

March 9, 2012

Newt Gingrich faces some do-or-die primary contests in Dixie, his supposed home turf, over the next few days. Alabama and Mississippi hold their respective Republican primaries on Tuesday with Gingrich, the former U.S. House Speaker, and former Senator Rick Santorum expected to compete for, and potentially split, the conservative/evangelical vote.

Gingrich, though, didn’t do that well on his actual home turf – Georgia – during the Super Tuesday contests. Sure, the former history and geography professor at the University of West Georgia and 20-year representative of the state’s 6th Congressional district won 47.2 percent of the Republican vote in the Peachtree State. But according to political scientist Eric Ostermeier, that was one of the worst home-state primary performances by a Republican in decades.

Ostermeier, from the Humphrey School’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, writes the blog Smart Politics, which plumbs the political data for noteworthy facts and trends.

“Gingrich – who admittedly won Georgia on Super Tuesday by a comfortable margin of 21.3 points over Mitt Romney – fared quite poorly when stacked up against the record of most Republican White House hopefuls over the last 11 cycles,” Ostermeier wrote. The only candidate to do worse than Gingrich in a home-state primary was television evangelist Pat Robertson, who pulled just 15.3 percent of the vote in Virginia in 1988.

Gingrich tied with John McCain, who also won 47.2 percent of the vote in his home-state Arizona primary in 2008, narrowly beating Romney and, of course, kicking on to win his party’s nomination.

“Overall, the average Republican White House hopeful has averaged 63.6 percent of the vote in their home state since 1972 – some 16.4 points better than Gingrich,” said Ostermeier. Romney’s 72.1 percent of the vote in Massachusetts on Tuesday was in the top one-third of outcomes for Republican candidates during that time, although it paled next to the 95.8 percent landslide that Bob Dole engineered in Kansas in 1988.

Romney has several “home states,” of course – his birth state of Michigan, where he says “trees are the right height”; Massachusetts (where he actually voted on Tuesday, near his home in Belmont); New Hampshire, where he owns a handsome lakeside estate in Wolfeboro; and California, where his La Jolla beach house is currently undergoing a major renovation.

Gingrich missed a chance to be on the ballot Tuesday in the state where he actually lives – Virginia.

Santorum gets to show off his home-state chops in the Pennsylvania primary on April 24 — although he, too, now lives mostly in Virginia.

Photo credit: Newt Gingrich addresses supporters in the “Super Tuesday” Republican presidential primary in Atlanta, Georgia, March 6, 2012. REUTERS/John Amis

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