Trying to mount another comeback, Newt Gingrich skipped Tuesday's Republican presidential primaries in Michigan and Arizona to make a stand in the South and urged supporters in his home state to help him jumpstart his campaign.
Gingrich spoke before polls closed in the two primaries and made no reference to either contest. Next week, on "Super Tuesday," 10 states with a total of 419 delegates at stake will vote in the GOP race, including Georgia. He represented the state in the House for 20 years.
"I think re-electing Barack Obama will be a disaster," Gingrich said at the University of West Georgia, where he taught during the 1970s. "The challenge for us is to present a clear and compelling alternative so that the country has a really clear sense of what the difference is."
Gingrich was pinning his hopes on winning Georgia and showing strength in Tennessee, Oklahoma and other states voting March 6. He opened a three-day bus tour in Georgia to fend off rivals Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
Bypassing Tuesday's primaries, Gingrich gambled that one of his rivals would emerge as a weaker candidate and give him a chance to climb back into contention in the topsy-turvy race.
Gingrich has acknowledged that winning his home state is crucial to his campaign but has stopped short of saying a loss here would force him out of race.
"We have to gain delegates in a number of states and I think we will," Gingrich said in an interview with CNN. "We, frankly, made a decision that we'd put our resources into next Tuesday and beyond and recognize that we weren't in a position to compete head-to-head in Michigan."
He showed little signs of desperation in Carrollton, opening an event before college students with a lengthy story about removing a tree with a co-worker while he taught at the school.
At an earlier rally in Rome, Ga., Gingrich made more pointed remarks about Romney, calling him a moderate "pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase governor" who would hurt the party's chances against Obama.
"I don't believe a moderate can beat President Obama. We tried a moderate in 1996, we lost badly. We tried a moderate in 2008, we lost badly," Gingrich said. Referring to separate health plans backed by both men, Gingrich said: "I don't think there is enough difference between Romneycare and Obamacare to have a debate. I think it would be silly."
Gingrich said his message about gas prices and advancing a plan to drive pump prices down to $2.50 a gallon was paying dividends. He accused Obama of not doing enough to keep gas prices down and said the president should approve the Keystone oil pipeline and allow more drilling in Alaska.
He quipped that a supporter told him that Obama's 9-9-9 plan _ a reference to former GOP candidate Herman Cain's tax plan _ "is $9.99 a gallon for gasoline."
During rallies throughout the day, Gingrich urged supporters to pass out leaflets at gas stations and have people calculate how much they'd save if gas prices dropped. He also asked them to spread the message on Twitter and "go on Facebook and put Newt(equals)$2.50 a gallon"
Without mentioning Gingrich by name, the White House called his energy plan unrealistic.
"There are numerous factors that go into a spike in global oil prices, and any politician who tells you otherwise is not being honest," said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter: http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas