By KEN THOMAS, ASSOCIATED PRESS
ATLANTA — Plotting a comeback, Newt Gingrich is looking beyond Tuesday's Republican primaries in Michigan and Arizona and counting on Southern voters to rejuvenate his struggling presidential campaign.
Gingrich is pinning his hopes on winning Georgia and showing strength in Tennessee, Oklahoma and other Super Tuesday states voting March 6. The former House speaker was starting a three-day bus tour in Georgia, which he represented in Congress for 20 years, to fend off rivals Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
By skipping Michigan and Arizona, Gingrich was betting that one of his rivals will emerge from Tuesday's primaries a weaker candidate, giving Gingrich a chance to become the main alternative to the front-runner and claw his way back into the topsy-turvy race.
Gingrich has acknowledged that winning Georgia is crucial to his campaign but has stopped short of saying a loss there would force him out of race.
Gingrich said Tuesday that taking a week away from the latest primaries to develop his message about gasoline prices would pay off.
"I think you're going to find that the Gingrich plan to get back to $2.50 a gallon is going to have a lot of appeal to a lot of people," he told NBC's "Today" show.
On Fox News Channel, Gingrich rejected the suggestion that presidents can't really do much to lower prices at the pump. "That's such total absolute baloney," Gingrich said, adding that as president he would allow increased domestic drilling and approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas.
Gingrich disputed talk that his campaign is in decline, saying he's working methodically to build up his delegate support. Gingrich said he believed he'd do well in the Super Tuesday contests and then go on to win both Alabama and Mississippi.
Asked about speculation that his relatively poor standing could force him to the sidelines, Gingrich said such talk isn't new. "I've been down this road before," he said.