Gingrich fights for relevance after Super Tuesday

Republican presidential candidate, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista Gingrich wave after being declared the winner of the primary in Georgia during the election night rally at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel on March 6, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. With over 400 delegates up for grabs voters in ten states went to the polls on Super Tuesday in the continuing fight for the Republican presidential nomination. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Newt Gingrich
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Updated March 7, 1 a.m. ET

(CBS News) Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won a decisive victory in his home state of Georgia Tuesday, keeping his presidential campaign alive to see another day. But Gingrich was unable to win in Oklahoma and nearby Tennessee, prompting many to ask how much longer can he survive?

With 2,731 of 2,850 reporting in Georgia, Gingrich is carrying 47 percent of the vote. His next closest competitor in the state is Mitt Romney with 26 percent.

But in the two other Southern states where Gingrich aimed to perform well, victory went to Rick Santorum: In Tennessee, with 2,140 of 2,141 precincts reporting, Santorum carried 37 percent of the vote, while Romney had 28 percent and Gingrich took 24 percent.

And with 1,955 of 1,961 precincts reporting in Oklahoma, Santorum held 34 percent of the vote while Romney took 28 percent and Gingrich 27 percent.

In fact, by late Tuesday night, Gingrich was trailing in third or fourth place in nearly every Super Tuesday state outside of Georgia (with the exceptions of Alaska, where results had yet to be tallied, and Virginia, Gingrich failed to get on the ballot). If the trend continues, Gingrich may prove to be little more than a thorn in the side of Santorum, who's vying for the same conservative votes as the former speaker.

Even so, Gingrich made clear Tuesday night in Atlanta that he's not going anywhere.

"There are lots of bunny rabbits that run through," Gingrich said. "I am the tortoise, I just take one step at a time."

In another indication of his intent to stay in the race, a source in the Gingrich campaign confirmed to CBS News that he will get Secret Service protection beginning Wednesday.

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The Santorum campaign had no reservations Tuesday about expressing their displeasure with Gingrich's lingering presence in the race.

"There's been poll after poll after poll that shows if Rick Santorum were just to have a one on one shot with Mitt Romney that the Gingrich supporters go right to Rick Santorum in big numbers," Santorum senior strategist John Brabender told reporters. "So conservative and Tea Party folks are going to have a decision to make: Do we want Mitt Romney to be the nominee or not, or do we want to just keep splitting our vote."

Brabender added, "I think people are going to have to look and say how did [Gingrich] do outside of his home state."

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CBS News estimated Republican delegate scorecard

After winning just one other Republican presidential primary -- the South Carolina contest in January - Gingrich said he had win Georgia in order to remain a viable candidate. Out of the 10 states voting on Super Tuesday, Georgia has the most delegates at stake with 76.

Gingrich spent most of the past week in Georgia, which he represented in Congress for 20 years. Tonight's results indicate his ties to the state and his time there paid off: CBS News early exit polling shows Gingrich winning men, women, and white evangelical voters in the state. He also led among very conservative voters and those who said the economy was their top issue.

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Home state ties key to Gingrich's Georgia victory

But in order to get a new bout of momentum, Gingrich was also looking for strong performances in the other Southern states voting Tuesday -- Tennessee and Oklahoma. Victories in those states, combined with his South Carolina win, were intended to bolster Gingrich's dominance in the South and help him make the case he could serve as the conservative alternative to Romney, rather than Santorum.

"Anybody who thinks Romney can outraise Obama - it ain't going to happen," Gingrich said at a campaign stop in Duluth, Georgia today. "You had better be prepared to wage a campaign of ideas this fall, 'cause the only hope we have to beat Obama is to have better ideas and communicating clearly, and cutting through his billion dollar campaign."

On Fox News on Monday, Gingrich challenged Romney to a debate over gas prices -- an issue that Gingrich has seized on the campaign trail, and which weighed heavily on voters' minds Tuesday, CBS News exit polling shows.

In his remarks Tuesday night, Gingrich chided Romney for calling his plan to bring down gas prices "pandering."

"No, this is called leading," Gingrich said. "Leaders create large goals... Leaders arouse the American people to go out and do great things."

Gingrich's disappointing night in Tennessee isn't for lack of trying: He campaigned in the state and ran ads there this week, while the pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future spent $728,000 there backing the former speaker.

While Gingrich was in Atlanta to celebrate his Super Tuesday victory, he was in Alabama earlier in the day, signifying he was already looking to next week's contests. Alabama and Mississippi vote on March 13, where Gingrich aims to perform well.

Ahead of that, on March 10, are the Kansas caucuses. Gingrich plans on making stops in all four of Kansas' congressional districts before then.

Super Tuesday results by state: Alaska | Georgia | Idaho | Massachusetts | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Tennessee | Vermont | Virginia