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Crawford: A tale of two Georgians at GOP gathering
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Even though they couldn't be considered native sons, two men with Georgia connections are running for the Republican nomination for president.

Newt Gingrich was born in Pennsylvania and has resided in Virginia for a while, but he will always be associated with Georgia because he taught at West Georgia College and served for 20 years as one of the state's congressmen.

Herman Cain was born in Memphis and spent much of his adult life outside Georgia working for the U.S. Navy or as a business executive, but he has lived here several years and ran in the 2004 U.S. Senate race eventually won by Johnny Isakson.

Gingrich is a familiar figure among the electorate because of his tenure as speaker of the U.S. House and his widespread presence in the media over the past three decades. If you have never seen him interviewed on cable TV or heard him on a radio talk show, you haven't really been paying attention to politics.

Cain is the more obscure of the two candidates, although he has done some talk radio work in the Atlanta market. His situation is similar to that of Morry Taylor, the CEO of a wheel manufacturing company who ran in several Republican primaries during the 1996 race for president.

It was fitting that both candidates made appearances in Macon last weekend before the state convention of the Georgia Republican Party, a gathering of the people most actively involved in party politics at the grass-roots level.

They both gave similar speeches, proposing the same set of tax cuts and citing the identical anecdote involving Barack Obama, George Soros and Brazilian oil drilling. There was a notable difference, however, in the reception they received from the GOP activists.

The applause given to Gingrich at the open and close of his Friday night speech was warmly felt, no doubt, but it was restrained at the same time. There was not the wild enthusiasm you would see at events featuring personalities like Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann — no whoops and hollers here.

Gingrich probably didn't help his cause by giving a low-energy speech that was often punctuated by sniffles and coughs, the result, he said apologetically, of some issues he was having with allergies.

He did score some points with his Obama zingers: "President Obama is the most successful food stamp president in American history. I would like to be the most successful paycheck president in American history."

On the whole, his heart didn't really seem to be in it, and it showed with the tepid applause he received.

After that lackluster performance by Gingrich, Cain appeared before the convention Saturday morning and pumped up the volume by many more decibels.

Cain doesn't deliver a speech in the traditional sense of the word. He shouts it, like a revival preacher, at a volume so loud you fear your eardrums will burst.

Cain also took the Obama bashing a step farther than Gingrich had, appearing to call for an armed revolt against the current administration.

"The American dream is under attack, the pursuit of happiness is under attack, so we've got to do some altering and abolishing," Cain roared. "It is being attacked by an administration that is trying to shove legislation down our throats against the wishes of the American people. We've got to alter and attack."

That loudness and ferocity made for a more lively presentation. Even though Cain was giving Republican delegates many of the same talking points they had already heard from Gingrich, there was a high-voltage energy in his performance that generated a longer, more enthusiastic response.

"He hit a home run on that one," said Joyce Stevens, a capitol lobbyist and convention delegate standing at rear of the Centreplex arena.

It's an interesting contrast. Gingrich has more name recognition than Cain from a long career in politics and probably has access to more campaign money as a result. It is Gingrich who will be characterized as the "serious" contender by the pundits while Cain is seen as a fringe candidate who could slide back into the same obscurity as Taylor.

Don't tell that to the attendees at the Georgia Republican Party convention. It was clear that Cain was their guy.

Tom Crawford is the editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears Wednesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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