Erik S. Lesser / EPA
Former House Speaker and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich leads a campaign rally Friday in Peachtree City, Ga.
PEACHTREE CITY, GA -- Newt Gingrich made his intentions in Georgia known Friday night while criticizing his GOP rivals for skipping his home state.
“It's very important for me to win Georgia. Our goal is to win Georgia,” Gingrich told reporters inside an airport hangar following a rally with roughly 350 people.
Fresh off a fundraising swing through California, the former House speaker challenged Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum not to ignore Georgia, a Super Tuesday state.
“If you’re afraid to debate Newt Gingrich, you sure can’t debate Barack Obama,” Gingrich said at the event just outside of Atlanta. “I am going to ask them to reconsider and come to Georgia. It will be just fine. We will be hospitable.”
The remarks came after both Romney and Santorum decided to pull out of a presidential debate originally slated in the Peach State on March 1.
Two chickens were even seen wandering around the Gingrich event Friday mocking the two candidates for their decision not to participate in the debate. One was wearing a Romney shirt and holding a sign that read “I’m Chicken to Debate Newt” while the other wore a Santorum shirt and held a sign that read “76 Delegates but Mitt and Rick don’t want them?”
The former speaker, who has faded from the spotlight in recent weeks, is confident that his strategy, where he seems to be focusing more on Southern states, will propel him back to the front of the pack.
“With your help we are going to win the [Georgia] primary, that’s a big piece of winning Super Tuesday,” Gingrich said, standing on stage with his wife, Callista, daughter Jackie and her family. “When we win Super Tuesday, we are back in the game, and for the third time, we will be moving back toward front-runner status.”