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Area Republicans still behind Gingrich, Perry after Iowa
Bell, Lutz and Oliver endorse Gingrich
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Mitt Romney won the Iowa caucus Tuesday night, but local support for other candidates hasn't waned.

The Hall County Republican Party doesn't take positions on primaries, but Vice Chairman of Events Mike Nosach said most Georgians are backing former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"If (Gingrich) can come in second or third in New Hampshire and can do well in South Carolina, then he's a viable candidate," he said. "Newt's a favorite just because he's a Georgia boy and we like to support our own."

Three Hall County Commissioners — Ashley Bell, Craig Lutz and Tom Oliver — endorsed Gingrich, alongside Gov. Nathan Deal, several weeks ago. Bell spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Iowa on the campaign trail for Gingrich.

"Newt came in third in my precinct," Bell said. "The speaker was able to finish respectively in fourth place to allow him to go on and fight another day. It's all about surviving Iowa and New Hampshire."

He said Gingrich stood out as the clear second choice for most voters.

Gingrich finished behind front-runners Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

"This is a really important victory for Mitt Romney because until quite recently, he did not spend much time in Iowa," said Douglas Young, a political science and history professor at Gainesville State College.

Young called Santorum and Paul the "ideal candidates" to come in second and third.

He said Santorum is too socially conservative to win and Paul too libertarian, leaving Romney to position himself somewhere in the middle.

"Lord knows anything can happen, but as I see it, Romney is the one candidate other than Ron Paul who's been thoroughly vetted," Young said. "He went through the primaries last time (2008). I think if there were any skeletons in his closet, they would have come out by now, especially since he's been the front-runner for so long."

Young predicted Romney will sail ahead to win Tuesday's New Hampshire primary and likely will become the Republican nominee.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who has endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry, said his support for the candidate will not waver despite Perry's fifth-place finish in Iowa.

Perry signaled through a Twitter message on Wednesday that he would remain in the race, with his sights set on the South Carolina primary Jan. 21.

Cagle knows Perry from when the candidate was lieutenant governor of Texas under George W. Bush.

"We would have all liked to see him doing better in Iowa," Cagle told The Times on Wednesday. "My support will continue to be with him."

Bell believes Perry is Gingrich's main competition in the race.

"Everybody was kind of hoping that Perry would have dropped out of the race last night, just because Southern voters in both parties kind of prefer Southern candidates," said Bell, a former Democrat. "Obviously going into South Carolina it would be great to be the only conservative on the ballot instead of having to fight with Rick Perry."

Times reporter Aaron Hale contributed to this story.