Southern GOPers Love Newt Gingrich, but Maybe Not for President

New Orleans, LA—”No one can send a message with as much clarity as Newt Gingrich!” exclaimed Copiah County (Miss.) GOP Chairman Don Taylor shortly after the former House speaker and presidential candidate addressed the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (SRLC) last night.  “The way he stays on the conservative message reminds me of what [former British Prime Minister Margaret] Thatcher told America:  ‘Don’t go wobbly.’ “

Taylor, who served in the administrations of Mississippi’s Republican Governors Kirk Fordice and Haley Barbour, and wife Beverly were among the 2,000-plus participants in the SRLC at the Hilton Hotel here June 16 to 18.  Both said without hesitation that they would strongly consider backing Gingrich for President.  So did Madison County (Miss.) GOP Chairman Mary McLaurin, who took copious notes on Gingrich’s address last night.

“I especially liked the way Newt went after Obama for wanting to ‘take Israel back in a time warp to 1967’ and how he called for stopping taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood,” McLaurin told HUMAN EVENTS, adding that she came to the conference “at about 40% when it came to backing Gingrich for President and, after hearing that speech, I’m up to about 70% or 80% for him.”

As to whether the much-publicized controversy about his personal life would make her wary about backing him, McLaurin, a devout Baptist, shot back:  “No.  He’s human.  It’s easy for people to pass judgment, but there’s only one who will truly judge us all.”  (McLaurin said she is neutral in the presidential race but considering backing Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, or Texas Gov. Rick Perry.)

Almost to a person, the participants at the conference HUMAN EVENTS spoke to echoed the strong praise for Gingrich’s address, which covered foreign, domestic and cultural issues and drew a prolonged ovation.  But, the glowing words of Taylor and McLaurin notwithstanding, many of those same people who praised Gingrich’s oratory also expressed reservations about him being their party’s nominee against Barack Obama.

“Newt’s talented all right, but I’m not keen on his personal life,” said Columbia County (Ga.) GOP leader Roy Luke.  “I say we run a fresh face and not a Washington insider.”  (Luke is supporting Minnnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann for the nomination).

Louisville, Ky., City Councilman Ken Fleming, who is neutral in the 2012 race, feels Gingrich has “a lot of potential” but is concerned about the former House speaker’s tendency “not to think cautiously before he comments, such as when he criticized the [budget] plan by [House Budget Committee Chairman] Paul Ryan.”

Former Louisiana GOP Finance Chairman Will Mills told us that Gingrich “did a good job tonight.  He’s a great orator and a historian.  And I would back him for President—if he makes it to the nomination.  But I’m not sure he can galvanize the conservative grass roots in the same way that, say, Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin or Herman Cain can.”

Pressed as to what Gingrich’s drawbacks are, Mills replied:  “He’s been around a long time.  And the things he said about the Ryan plan.”  (Although he is scheduled to introduce Bachmann at the conference, Mills is neutral in the nomination battle.)

All told, Gingrich had a good day in New Orleans.  His reception at the SRLC was jammed and his oratory clearly moved this audience of activists.  As to the presidential nomination, the best one can say here is that interest in and enthusiasm for Gingrich is obvious, but doubts about him as a candidate remain considerable.