Updated 10:20 p.m. ET
PEACHTREE CITY, Ga.-- Newt Gingrich had a message for rivals Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney at a campaign event in his native Georgia Friday: bawk bawk bawwwk.
After two people dressed in chicken suits entertained the crowd, holding a sign reading "I'm Chicken to Debate Newt," Gingrich hit his rivals for backing out of a CNN-sponsored debate that had been scheduled for March 1 but was canceled after Santorum, Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas said they would not attend.
"I'm going to ask them to reconsider and come to Georgia. It'll be just fine," Gingrich told an audience of about 400 gathered in an airplane hangar in Peachtree City for an evening rally. "We'll be hospitable, and frankly there's something wrong when someone tries to buy their way to the presidency."
The frequently cash-strapped Gingrich campaign has relied heavily on his solid performances in the national televised events. After the event, talking with reporters, Gingrich said, "All I can tell you is that the average Georgian and the average Ohioan is going to say, 'Let me get this straight, they're not willing to come here to debate but they want my vote?'"
Although Gingrich said earlier this week that he may not win his home state of Georgia, he projected confidence Friday and noted the number of frontrunners who had come and gone, comparing the election cycle to being on Space Mountain in Disneyland.
"You don't know where you were and you're not sure where you're going," Gingrich said. He told the crowd, "For the third time, we'll be moving back toward front-runner status with your help."
He said, "It's very important for me to win Georgia. It's very crucial. ... How crucial is it for Mitt Romney to win Michigan? How crucial is it for Santorum to win Pennsylvania?"