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Ga. to play big part in GOP primary
State has 76 delegates to award in GOP race
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While two Republican candidates for president campaign in Georgia this weekend, Secretary of State Brian Kemp is sitting pretty.

In late September, in the wake of Florida's decision to break national GOP rules and hold its primary in January, Kemp settled on March 6, Super Tuesday, for Georgia's primary.

It marked the first time Georgia's secretary of state had the power to set the date. Previous state law called for Georgia to vote on its preferred presidential party choices on the first Tuesday in February.

Kemp thinks his first choice was the right one.

Instead of skipping ahead like Florida and losing delegates at the GOP national convention this summer, Georgia has the most to give for candidates seeking to clinch the Republican nomination on Super Tuesday.

It's possible that the candidates are starting to pay attention, too.

They're buying air time on Georgia's television and radio stations, and starting to show up in person.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich appeared Saturday at a rally in Forsyth County. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum plans to touch down in South Forsyth today.

"Those are things we had not had in years past," Kemp said. "That was what my objective was: for folks to have the opportunity to see those candidates, hear from them and make Georgia relevant."

Georgia's law pre-2011 sometimes meant the state's significance in the presidential primary was eclipsed by bigger states such as New York and California.

"As the biggest plum to be picked in the orchard this time, we may get more attention if the candidates other than Gingrich see that they can score some points here," said Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia.

Of the 10 states voting on Super Tuesday, Georgia has the most delegates at stake.

And when it comes time to choose a nominee at the Republican National Convention Aug. 27-30 in Tampa, Georgia's 76 delegates will be the fourth largest delegation.

A lot is at stake for Gingrich, who represented Georgia in Congress for some two decades and has relied heavily on his support from the Deep South.

"If he were to perform badly here, that would let a lot more air out of his balloon," Bullock said. "If he does, where does he go for his next victory?"

It's one of the things Bullock says makes Georgia particularly significant on Super Tuesday: It could break Gingrich.

Political scientist at Emory University, Merle Black, too, says Gingrich needs to win Georgia more than the other three Republican candidates.

"If (Gingrich) can't do well here, then he may plod on, but he may find it increasingly difficult to find anybody who will vote for him," Bullock said. "If he ceases to be a factor, then conservative voters who are unwilling to support (Mitt) Romney would all congregate behind Santorum."

If Santorum wins Michigan and is competitive in Arizona in primaries Feb. 28, he might come to Georgia with enough favorable news coverage to divide the state's conservative voters, Black said.

But even with Santorum's visit to Forsyth County today, Black said it's too early to tell whether he can make a big push for Georgia.

"Georgia's got 159 counties," said Black. "One out of 159, you know? You've got to be on television. You've got to be on radio. You've got to have that kind of turnout if you're really making a serious effort."
There is the possibility that Santorum and the others might concede Georgia early , since it's considered Gingrich's home state.

The decision to cancel a CNN debate scheduled March 1 in Atlanta after Romney and Ron Paul said they wouldn't attend seems to imply that they may not campaign heavily here, Black said.

"I think the cancellation of the debate says a lot about whether the candidates other than Gingrich want to make a huge effort in Georgia. They may calculate that Gingrich is going to win Georgia, and if they can't beat him in Georgia, then it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to put a lot of resource into Georgia," Black said.

"Right now, it looks like all the polls have Gingrich leading. He's not leading by huge numbers, but he's ahead, and he'd certainly be the favorite here in Georgia."

But even Gingrich hasn't been willing to say he's got Georgia in the bag, telling reporters this week that it's possible he might not win.

At Saturday's event, he said he's not taking the state for granted.

"The fact that these candidates are coming into Georgia suggests that they are not at that point (to concede Georgia) right now," Bullock said.

Kemp's decision to hold the primary in March kept Georgia from being a winner-take-all state, meaning whichever candidate won here could have all the state's 76 delegates as in the past, GOP attorney Anne Lewis said.
Instead, Georgia's delegates will be divided up amongst the candidates somewhat proportionally.

There are three delegates to be had for each of the state's 14 House districts. A candidate who gets a majority of the vote in a congressional district gets all three of its delegates.

If no candidate has a clear majority in that district, the one with the most votes gets two. The candidate who gets second place in the district gets one delegate.
Another 31 of Georgia's delegates will vote at the convention based on the percentage each candidate receives at the polls statewide.

If any don't fit into the equation, their votes will be divided amongst the candidates one-by-one, starting with the candidate who got the most support by Georgia voters.
"If one candidate gets 25 percent of the statewide vote, they'll get 25 percent of the delegates," Lewis said.

The final three delegates have to vote for the candidate who receives the most votes statewide, Lewis said.

However a candidate wins the delegates, Georgia is a big get for candidates seeking the Republican nomination, Lewis said.
And Kemp said that was the plan when he and statewide GOP leaders settled on the March 6 date.

"My focus was on picking the best day where Georgia would be relevant," said Kemp.

"To make sure that when our folks voted, that they're vote would actually count, that the race wouldn't be over."

Of course, Kemp issued the decision last fall when he said a lot of folks figured the race would be over after Super Tuesday.

He concedes that's not really the case right now, but he doesn't think it makes Georgia's decision any less significant.

Instead of not even making it to the election year canon, Georgia now can be the starting or ending point in the story lines of the four Republican candidates still in the race, Kemp said.

"I think the race is just wide open right now, so the results of Super Tuesday are going have a big impact on who the nominee is going to be," said Kemp. "I think Georgia is going to play a big part in that process."