Gingrich Gets Going

Nov 16, 2011

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s surge to the top tier of the GOP presidential field has been sudden. Its also come without the benefit of a traditional campaign structure in early voting states. NHPR’s Josh Rogers reports.

 Newt Gingrich predicted victory when he opened his state campaign headquarters in Manchester last week. But Gingrich also told supporters winning wouldn’t be easy.

“The fact is I am clearly the underdog in NH. We are going to be coming from behind. But we have a chance to really change history right here; not in South Carolina, not in Florida, not in Nevada, right here.”

The fact that Gingrich is here at all is remarkable. His early campaign seemed one long misstep: conservatives lit into him when he called the Paul Ryan budget plan right-wing social engineering. Gingrich was pilloried in the media for holding 6-figure line of credit with the high-end jeweler Tiffany. His top national staff resigned in June, after Gingrich left the campaign trail to cruise the Greek isles. And as recently as last month ago, his campaign was a million dollars in the red. But after some strong debates and blunders by rivals, Gingrich is now the latest alternative to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

“Newt Gingrich is the best: He’s knowledgeable, he’s effective; he’s been there. We need the best.”

Wink Van Nowe is a GOP activist from Campton with Tea Party ties. She isn’t alone in citing Gingrich’s experience in Washington as a plus. That speaks to the Gingrich resume, which includes 20 years in congress. But it’s also an unexpected twist in an election where gaffes by anti-Washington candidates like Texas Governor Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain have left many conservatives worried. John Preve is a tax accountant from Concord.

"You just can’t have those kind of bloops in a big debate and go against President Obama, who’s a great orator and do well, that’s just not going to happen. So I think a lot of the winnowing process has already started. I’d really enjoy seeing Mr. Gingrich debate president Obama. I think it would be good politics."

But getting there will be a steep climb. Andrew Hemingway, Gingrich’s state campaign director, says the local math is tough.

“We have about 18 thousand votes we think, secured. We need another 69 to 70 thousand votes to win the primary. So I need to go and find a thousand voters a day. “

Gingrich has just five staffers on the ground here. All are recent hires. The campaign says its set up 3 offices, with 2 more in the works. Hemingway also says team Gingrich will also rely heavily on a social media site called Newt Hampshire.

“I can’t hire enough staff to go and run this the old way. There is no way we can do enough,  so the only way we can do this is to leverage the technology we have and basically create a new model.”

But Mike Dennehy, who helped pilot John McCain to primary wins in 2000 and 2008, says the old model could also work for Gingrich, particularly in a year when campaigns don’t have big staffs on the ground here and most top candidates have done less retail campaigning.

“Newt Gingrich is tailor-made for the NH town hall meeting style-campaign. So if he were to come here to NH have town hall meetings,  3 or 4 a day for 8 or 9 days, I think he could make huge impact.”

Dennehy adds, though, that at this point, the contest in here is for second place, behind statewide frontrunner Mitt Romney. Dennehy says candidates can claim success as long as they keep Romney’s margin to 15 points.  

“Then they’ll head into South Carolina with a little bit of momentum, not huge as if it were under 10 percent – and if they are within striking distance of Mitt Romney, then it throws the whole race on its head.”  

Newt Gingrich is expected to return to NH next week. He’s promised supporters he’ll be here often. The former house speaker will probably need to put in time locally to prove his theory of this election.

“I believe this race will come down to two people.”

If Gingrich is right, the next couple of months will reveal whether he’s one of those people.