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Gingrich leads as Georgians worry about jobs
Voters still expressing concern over economy
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GNP poll

The Georgia Newspaper Partnership poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., from Dec. 12-14. A total of 625 likely voters were interviewed by telephone, randomly selected and distributed across Georgia.

The margin for error is plus or minus 4 percentage points, which means that there is a 95 percent probability that the "true" figure would fall within that range if the entire population were sampled.

The survey includes an over-sampling of 400 likely Republican primary voters who were asked only the questions relative to the GOP primary. The margin for error for those questions is plus or minus 5 percentage points.

The margin for error is higher for any subgroup, such as regional or gender groupings.


Jonathan Hood feels that Newt Gingrich represents his ideals.

The Blairsville insurance agent says he is a conservative "first and foremost." He uses the word to describe his politics more so than the term "Republican."

And Gingrich seems to be the closest thing to those ideals. Gingrich also seems capable of "taking down Barack Obama in 2012," Hood said.

According to a Georgia Newspaper Partnership poll, Gingrich enjoys a home-state advantage in the race for the Georgia presidential primary, but he trails Mitt Romney in a head-to-head matchup with Obama.

Gingrich, a former Georgia congressman, leads Romney 43 percent to 21 percent among Georgia Republicans, according to the poll, performed by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research for the Georgia Newspaper Partnership.

No other candidate drew double-digit support.

The poll shows Republican voters continue to express concern over the state of the economy as the March 6 presidential primary draws closer.

Nearly half of respondents said jobs and the economy will be their key issues in choosing a candidate.

Hood is no different. For the next few months, he'll be looking for a candidate who takes a strong stand on jobs and the economy. Particularly, he wants to make sure that stance doesn't include growing the size of government or adding bureaucracy.

It's what really sticks in his craw about Romney.

While Hood likes Romney, he says the former Massachusetts governor just isn't conservative enough, especially his stance on health care, which Hood refers to as "Romneycare."

"It's hard for me to swallow that," Hood said. "To me, Obamacare was the greatest piece of social engineering and socialist government perhaps since Social Security."

Gingrich has become the campaign's front-runner nationally. The Georgia results match polls in early-voting states such as Iowa and South Carolina.

In addition to polling Republicans, Mason-Dixon also posed a pair of questions to a broader sample of general election voters. The results show that Romney is the stronger general election candidate.

Both Romney and Gingrich are favored in matchups with Obama, but Romney's lead is bigger.

In a Gingrich-Obama matchup, Gingrich is favored 50 percent to 41 percent, with 9 percent undecided. In a Romney-Obama matchup, Romney gets 55 percent support to Obama's 38 percent, with 7 percent undecided.

The difference? Women and independents, said Mason-Dixon managing partner Brad Coker.

"The ultimate group that will make or break any group in the general election are politically independent, not really strongly affiliated suburban women," Coker said. "Romney is much more attractive to those voters now than Gingrich is."

That dynamic plays out, too, in the race for the state's primary. While Gingrich enjoys a healthy lead — not a surprise, given his ties here, Coker said — his support is softer among women. Some 29 percent of Republican women support Gingrich, compared to 52 percent of male GOP voters, the poll found.

University of Georgia political scientist Charles Bullock, a veteran analyst of Georgia politics, said the thrice-married Gingrich's trouble with female voters is expected.

"Not too surprising, the way he goes through wives," Bullock said.

But Marlene Villasenor, 48, of Lawrenceville, is one of those suburban women backing Gingrich since her first choice, Herman Cain, suspended his campaign.

"Gingrich's experience working with Congress would be an asset," Villasenor said. "I like that when he was speaker he was able to work with (President Bill) Clinton to balance the budget and reform welfare. It showed he could work with the opposing side."

Romney, who finished third in the state's 2008 presidential primary, is trailing among evangelical voters and tea party supporters, who break in larger numbers for Gingrich.

Gingrich said the poll results show voters are listening.

"Georgians know my record of fighting for conservative reform and know there will be no need for on-the-job training if I am privileged enough to be the next president," Gingrich said in an email to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I appreciate their dedication to be with me as we work to defeat Barack Obama and rebuild the America we love."

Romney supporters, meanwhile, are undeterred and see positive signs in the poll. Eric Tanenblatt, a managing director at McKenna Long law firm and top Romney ally in Georgia, said the poll plays to his candidate's strengths.

"The No. 1 issue that shows up are jobs and the economy," said Tanenblatt, who was Gov. Sonny Perdue's first chief of staff. "Mitt Romney spent 25 years in the private sector. He understands how the economy works. The more voters get to know Mitt Romney, the more they're going to realize, with jobs and the economy being the No. 1 issue, he's the candidate for the time."

For many evangelicals, Gingrich's contrition after two failed marriages and extramarital affairs show he has changed. The Rev. Michael Youssef of the Church of The Apostles in Atlanta said all people are sinners.

"I'd rather have somebody who knows how to confess and repent from sin than somebody who would never acknowledge sin, or repent from sin," said Youssef, who supports Gingrich.

Youssef said many were upset with Gingrich, but his public acknowledgment of his failings brought many back to the fold.

Besides, he said, "we're not electing a pastor-in-chief. We're electing a commander-in-chief. If Newt was applying for a job as a pastor, that would be a different story."

William Glidewell of Lincolnton, is among those supporting Gingrich.

"He's had lots of experience around Washington, and if you don't know your way around Washington, you'll mess up. I'm not totally happy with lots of our people up there, but he's got lots of experience in that area," Glidewell, 79, said of Gingrich.

Though he's retired after 30 years in the Navy and 15 with the U.S. Postal Service, Glidewell said the economy and jobs and their impact on his grandchildren and great-grandchildren is the most important factor in his choice of a president.

Billie White, 84, of Comer said he supports Gingrich because of the former House speaker's experience but is open to changing his mind.

And like Glidewell, White said he won't vote for Obama.

"I definitely don't care for Obama because I think he's been primed from grade school to do what he's doing," White said. "I just don't trust him, as a Christian. I don't think he's on the up-and-up."
He said he doesn't like the auto or bank bailouts, and he's most worried about the rising national debt.

"I can't go along with what they're doing in Washington," he said. "You can't spend more than you've got. You can't spend your way out of debt."

But Dorothy Carter, 64, of Gainesville thinks Obama needs another four years to turn the country around. She is one of 43 percent of Georgians polled who approve of Obama's job performance as president.

She thinks Obama has good ideas, and said he has fulfilled his campaign promises on health care and the war in Iraq. She also believes the president is the best man to revive the U.S. economy.

"He went into a mess," said Carter. "It's going to take a while to get everything turned around. ... He wasn't the ones that took our jobs away from the U.S. The other fellows already did that."

Contributing Georgia Newspaper Partnership reporters include Aaron Gould Sheinin of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Susan McCord of The Augusta Chronicle and Blake Aued of The Banner-Herald in Athens.