A new poll shows Newt Gingrich strengthening his lead in Georgia just hours before the start of the Republican presidential primary.
A Landmark Communications/Rosetta Stone poll commissioned for Channel 2 Action News shows Gingrich has increased his lead by two points in the past four days. The poll of likely Republican voters showed Gingrich with 44 percent, Mitt Romney at 23 percent, Rick Santorum with 17 percent and Ron Paul with 7 percent.
"We've seen Santorum going down, Romney coming up in these polls and then Gingrich moving ahead. So right now it looks like Gingrich is a very strong favorite to win Georgia," said Channel 2 political analyst Merle Black. "This is do or die for Gingrich."
Gingrich’s lead means the real battle in Georgia is for second place, Black told Channel 2 political reporter Lori Geary.
The state has 76 Republican delegates that will be divided up using an extremely complicated formula.
"I think it's been so confusing the Republican National Committee needs a cheat sheet," said Sue Everhart, Georgia GOP chairwoman.
Everhart told Geary she’s disappointed that Romney and Santorum ignored the state until the past few weeks.
"They just don't come to Georgia for anything but to raise money and I think with Newt in the race they decided we'd better get down to Georgia," Everhart said.
Romney and his wife, Ann, appeared in Gwinnett County on Sunday to serve pancakes, his first appearance since Feb. 8.
"He's doing well and he would be doing a lot better had he come to Georgia," Everhart said.
Santorum made stops in Dalton and DeKalb County last week while Gingrich traveled across his home state by bus.
Black says regardless of Gingrich’s support in Georgia, it may not be enough for his party’s nomination.
"In order for Gingrich to really have a national campaign, he's got to win states outside the South, but that's where he's never shown any real strength," Black said.
Gingrich plans to be in Cobb County on Tuesday to watch election returns with supporters, and then he will travel to Alabama and Mississippi.