Newt Gingrich won a convincing victory in Georgia tonight by running well across most groups of voters and by taking advantage of his Georgia heritage. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum finished well behind as they were unable to gain enough traction among the Republican voters that have supported them in other states.

The Home State Advantage

While only about a third of voters said that Gingrich’s ties to Georgia mattered in their choice of candidates, Gingrich won three quarters of their votes. Voters who said that his ties to the state did not matter to them split their votes among the candidates, with Romney slightly ahead of Gingrich and Santorum. Romney’s lead among this large group of voters was not nearly enough to offset Gingrich’s very large advantage among those who voted for him in recognition of his years as member of the House of Representative from Georgia and as speaker of the House.

The Issues and the Candidates

The economy and the federal budget deficit were the overriding issues for voters in the Republican primary. Mitt Romney’s business experience was not enough to propel him ahead on these issues in Georgia as has been the case in other primaries. Over 4 in 10 voters in the Republican primary most wanted a candidate who could beat Barack Obama in November and Gingrich edged ahead of Romney among these voters 46 percent to 38 percent. A fifth of voters most wanted someone who has the right experience and slightly fewer most wanted someone who is a true conservative. Gingrich won over these voters by large margins. Seventeen percent of voters most wanted someone who has strong moral character and it was here that Rick Santorum broke through, winning 55 percent of these voters.

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