Presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich visit Chattanooga

Presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich visit Chattanooga

February 24th, 2012 in Opinion Times

On the surface, Rick Santorum's visit here on Saturday and Newt Gingrich's appearance in Dalton, Ga. on Tuesday have the same principal goal. Each wants to win over voters before Tennessee and Georgia residents cast ballots in the March 6 "Super Tuesday' Republican presidential primaries. The candidates' secondary goals, however, are vastly different.

Santorum is operating from a position of strength. When he speaks at a Chattanooga Tea Party event at Abba's House, a church in Hixson, on Saturday, he'll do so as the front-runner in Tennessee and as a strong contender in Georgia. His goal will be to reassure those who already favor his candidacy of its validity and to woo others in the party to his side. Gingrich's task is far more difficult.

The former U.S. House speaker is in a decidedly vulnerable position. He's on shaky ground in Georgia and, like Ron Paul, is faring poorly in Tennessee. Moreover, Gingrich is on record as saying that if a presidential candidate can't carry his home state, there is little "rationale" for him to stay in the race.

Those words, directed specifically at Mitt Romney in Michigan, now apply to Gingrich in Georgia, where polls indicate that he has a statistically meaningless lead over Romney and Santorum. His appearance at the Northwest Georgia Trade & Convention Center and similar events scheduled at other state venues before March 6 are designed to re-energize his campaign. It is a do-or-die strategy.

He's on the record about the of importance home-state primaries, and even the glib Gingrich would have a hard time convincing fellow Republicans that there was a viable rationale for his continued candidacy if he falters in Georgia.

Whatever Santorum's and Gingrich's reasons for visiting here, their public appearances are a welcome adjunct to the current primary season. They provide an opportunity for everyone -- regardless of political affiliation, personal philosophy or station in life -- to see and to hear a candidate on the national stage in a local setting. That's something not available to a majority of those likely to cast ballots on March 6.

There is, at this writing, no firm program for either Santorum on Saturday or Gingrich on Tuesday. It's likely, though, that each will provide a standard spiel touting their experience and espousing policies they would promote if they were the party's eventual nominee and if they won the presidency in November. There might even be a verbal punch or two aimed at opposing candidates. Those are the sort of things to be expected at any carefully orchestrated event of this sort. What would be nice, though, is a bit of give-and-take between candidate and audience members.

Those who attend the rallies should have the chance to question the candidates. That's the democratic way. Besides, it would provide a chance to see how a would-be president performs in an unscripted situation and to glean insights that might help those present to decide if the candidate is worthy of a vote on March 6. Or not.