Enthusiastic Newt Gingrich supporters turned the Forsyth County GOP mass precinct meeting into a campaign pep rally for Georgia's favorite son and presidential hopeful Saturday.
The purpose of the meeting, which was held at the Performing Arts Center at South Forsyth High School, was to elect precinct delegates to the county convention next month.
But an estimated half the crowd didn't belong to the Forsyth County GOP. They came out after it was announced late in the week the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives would be the featured speaker.
Republican Party Vice Chairman Brad Wilkins, who worked security Saturday, said the PAC seats about 400. At least 100 more lined each wall and some 50-100 cars were turned away at the parking lot.
"I was really really pleased with the turnout," Wilkins said. "A lot of those weren't Republican Party members, but came just to hear the Speaker."
Anticipation began to build when former presidential hopeful and Gingrich supporter Hermain Cain walked on stage and was greeted by a thunderous standing ovation.
"I knew I had friends in Forsyth County," Cain began. "I'm glad y'all showed up."
His next comment drew another standing ovation. "We're here 'cause we believe Newt Gingrich should be the next president of the United States," he said.
Cain had the crowd worked into a frenzy by the time he introduced his friend and fellow Georgian. As he walked off stage and embraced Gingrich, you could almost hear him joke, "Let's see you follow that."
And follow that Gingrich did. He eagerly tore into his Republican primary opponents Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum as well as President Obama.
He criticized Romney and Santorum for pulling out of a scheduled debate in Atlanta next week.
"I'm very disappointed," he said of their decision. "If you're afraid to debate me in Atlanta, you're not likely to do very well debating Barack Obama."
He was especially critical of Romney, who, he said, spent $20 million running "dishonest and negative" advertising against him in Florida. "That's the same thing he's doing to Santorum in Michigan right now."
"Wrong target," he said. "The target ought to be Barack Obama."
Gingrich reminded attendees what life had been like during his time in the House of Representatives.
"We balanced the budget four consecutive years," he said. "Gasoline was $1.13 a gallon and unemployment was at 4 percent."
The loudest and longest standing ovation came when he aimed his fire at the president.
"This is the most radical president in American history," he said. "He is waging war on religion in America. I'm not only prepared to debate Romney and Santorum. I'm eager to debate [Obama's] religious bigotry."
Gingrich was referring to the president's policy of requiring religious employers to provide free birth-control coverage even if it runs counter to their religious beliefs.
To quell a mounting outcry among Catholics and other religious groups, the president was forced to offer a compromise, which he says will free employees of religious institutions to get free birth control coverage directly from health-insurance companies.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has already rejected the new plan, calling it "unacceptable" and demanding that it be "corrected" because it still infringed on the religious liberty and conscience of Catholics.
Voters in Georgia will go to the polls next month to cast their ballot in the Republican presidential primary.