ATLANTA - Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich spoke in front of a different kind of crowd Thursday - a crowd of more than 600 people, many of whom have personally known Gingrich and his career for years. He told them he was "counting on his many friends" in Georgia.
During the question and answer session, issue questions were pushed to the wayside as voters in one of the most conservative areas in the state, Cobb County, pressed him on his strategy and how he could really win.
"I have to win Georgia I think to be credible in the race," Gingrich said.
He told the crowd his real challenge for the nomination is getting past the Republican Party establishment.
"My primary problem isn't beating Obama. Beating Obama will be easy. Obama is a disaster," Gingrich said. "He is an incompetent radical. You can't be both. The country will tolerate an incompetent pleasant person or they will tolerate a radical but they aren't going to tolerate someone who doesn't get it. The Republican Party just doesn't get it. That's why I am running. "
Gingrich quoted a Bible verse from Proverbs, "Without vision, the people parish," as he insisted that the Republicans have failed to provide vision.
"For 14 years-let's be clear-they tried managing big government. That's not possible. And if Romney wins, he will discover it's not possible. Because the fact is, big government is inherently antithetical to the entire Republican Party," Gingrich said.
Gingrich took the opportunity at a chamber of commerce event to hit Rick Santorum, his threat in the southern states, and leveled attacks against Mitt Romney.
"I don't think the other candidates in the end are particularly relevant. I mean, one of them may win because money matters but I don't think they are relevant because they are just politics, they are just the same old baloney. One is Massachusetts's moderate baloney, the other is Pennsylvania big labor baloney but they are baloney," Gingrich said.
Gingrich singled out Romney over his fundraising and attack ads. Gingrich told the crowd that only 6 percent of his donors have given less than $200 and that most of his donors are "maxed out."
"He went to Wall Street and he actually got the money from the people who got bailed out by TARP, so when you see the attack ads, they're being paid for with your tax money from the guys-cause you gave them the money so they could stay rich, so they could give him the money so they could run the ads."
There is a new attack ad against Gingrich running in Georgia that is funded by the super PAC supporting Romney, Restore Our Future. The super PAC has recently purchased more than $1 million in advertising opposing Gingrich. Gingrich claims the ad questions his ties to working with Ronald Reagan.
"The Reagan ad they're running is totally dishonest," Gingrich said. "And I think it is shameful that a candidate for the president of the United States would have an ad up that is totally false. I worked with Ronald Reagan for years; most of you know I worked with him for years."
The super PAC supporting Gingrich, Winning Our Future, made a $700,000 ad buy in Ga., which features an ad with citizens questioning Romney's qualification for the nomination. Gingrich will campaign in Savannah and across the state as he continues his bus tour Friday.