Empty Bowl lunchTimes news video
Everybody knew Newt Gingrich won Georgia before the votes were counted.
The Associated Press called a Georgia victory for the former House speaker at nearly the same time polls closed Tuesday.
It was a desperately needed win in his former home state as he looks to make another comeback in the GOP presidential race.
Doug Aiken, treasurer of the local GOP, voted for Gingrich, but even with a win in Georgia, Aiken wasn't convinced Tuesday that Gingrich would win the nomination.
Aiken was among the Republican crowd that watched the results of the 10-state primary on Fox News at Gainesville's Mellow Mushroom pizzeria on Tuesday.
A number of them, like Aiken, had supported Gingrich at the polls. Gingrich took more than 54 percent of Hall County's Republican votes. The county's next-favored candidate was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but he had less than half the votes Gingrich garnered in the county on Tuesday.
Gingrich pinned all his presidential ambitions on Tuesday's vote in Georgia, spending much of the week campaigning in the state, including spending Wednesday in Gainesville, rather than the other nine Super Tuesday states.
The go-for-broke strategy paid off, as results showed Gingrich with 47.4 percent of the vote with 96 percent of statewide precincts reporting.
Romney, with 25.7 percent of the vote, was locked in a battle for second place with Rick Santorum, who had 19.6 percent. Ron Paul, who didn't actively campaign in the state, trailed in fourth place with 6.5 percent of the vote.
The win was little surprise, with even Gingrich acknowledging that a defeat in the state he represented in Congress for 20 years could have crippled his presidential campaign. Gingrich made winning a chunk of Georgia's 76 delegates - the most of any Super Tuesday states - the center of his campaign strategy.
But the win may have come at a price. Santorum, who is vying to be the conservative alternative to Romney, won neighboring Tennessee and Oklahoma.
his two chief rivals in the other Super Tuesday states.
The Hall GOP is supporting "any Republican right now," said Rich Lacey, the group's vice chairman of communications.
Until there's a clear nominee, the group stays neutral. And as Super Tuesday didn't make clear any winner, some members expressed a desire to have a singular candidate to stand behind.
"I'd prefer that we had a clear-cut candidate at this point," said Lacey. "Once we have our candidate, then it's time to let the dogs out."
When Aiken lived in Cobb County, Gingrich represented him in the U.S. House, and Aiken had good things to say about him.
"He's an unbelievable guy on history," said Aiken.
But Aiken and others at the local GOP watch party weren't betting on Gingrich as the nominee.
Still, Gingrich sounded upbeat during a speech to supporters at a metro Atlanta hotel.
"I believe that I am the one candidate who has the ability to debate Barack Obama decisively," said Gingrich, who said a loss in Georgia would have left him with "no credibility."
Romney and Santorum also fought for Georgia, spending time and resources in the state as they looked for the win or at least to snag some delegates. Santorum made a play for the social conservative vote with visits to north Georgia, while Romney focused on earning votes in metro Atlanta.
The victory gave Gingrich at least 23 delegates, but it wasn't immediately clear how many delegates the other candidates would pick up under state party rules.
Gingrich has had the wildest campaign of anyone in the race, barely surviving the summer before briefly surging to the top and then falling back after an all-out blitz of negative ads.
South Carolina gave Gingrich a sorely needed victory on Jan. 21, but there's been little good news for the campaign since. Heading into Tuesday, he was stuck in a losing streak that put him in danger of becoming an also-ran in the race between Romney and Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator.
His latest comeback strategy was centered on notching a commanding victory in Georgia and a solid showing in neighboring Tennessee, where returns showed him at a distant third place. After Tuesday, Gingrich planned to focus on next week's contests in Mississippi and Alabama, carrying the same message that he's the best candidate to challenge Obama in November.
Gingrich, who now lives in suburban Virginia, entered the contest with solid advantages, including the endorsements of Gov. Nathan Deal, who appeared with him in Gainesville on Wednesday, and former presidential candidate Herman Cain.
But Georgia was hardly a given for Gingrich. The state's population has jumped more than 18 percent since he last held office in the late 1990s, a flood of residents who may have little memory of his time in government.
And some who do remember Gingrich said they were not convinced he was the best choice.
"I was a fan of Newt in the 1990s but it seems like his time has come and gone," said Hugh Long, a 32-year-old attorney from Smyrna who voted for Paul.
Romney's campaign sought to build on a base of support that earned him 30 percent of the vote in Georgia's 2008 primary.
Chris Brown, a 30-year-old law student, voted for Romney four years ago and decided to back him again because of his focus on the economy and his ability to beat Obama.
"Romney could win. The election is about eight months away and that's about eight lifetimes in politics," said Brown. "The people who think he's been damaged by this primary are wrong. He brings a good message that appeals to individuals and conservatives."
As the statewide winner, Gingrich automatically earns three delegates.
He'll also take a big chunk of the 31 at-large delegates awarded proportionally to candidates who tally more than 20 percent of the vote, and a slice of the other 42 that are doled out based on how each candidate does in Georgia's 14 congressional districts.
Like members of the Hall GOP, many of the voters interviewed by The Associated Press said they hoped for a speedy end to the primary, which could drag on to the GOP convention in August. Some confessed that the four-way competition left them with agonizing last-minute decisions.
Bill Saxman, who runs a bed-and-breakfast with his wife in Savannah, said he was torn between Romney and Santorum until the moment he cast his vote.
"I just went in there and said, ‘Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,'" said Saxman, 69. "And Santorum came up as moe."
Associated Press contributed to this report.