On The Road

December 21st, 2011

Gingrich’s Campaign Still Playing Catch Up

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Written by: Kevin Hall
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He is still the national frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, but this was hardly an event suitable for that status. A crowd of only 36 likely caucus goers gathered at the Swamp Fox restaurant in Knoxville on Tuesday evening to listen to Newt Gingrich. By comparison, the candidate ranking sixth in the national polls drew 40 people to an evening event at the nearby Pizza Ranch one month earlier.

Newt Gingrich’s runaway momentum has run away from him. Riding high in the polls just a few weeks ago, the former House Speaker is struggling. The problems go beyond the constant attacks on his record. There are no signs that this campaign will be prepared for the Iowa Caucus in just 13 days.

Five minutes before the scheduled start time of this tour stop, the only evidence that Newt Gingrich would soon arrive was a campaign button salesman hawking his wares in the hallway. There was no campaign staff to greet people. There were no Gingrich signs or stickers or sheets to sign people in.

That changed shortly after 6 pm, the time the event was scheduled to start. Staffers quickly hung a banner behind the podium, distributed stickers and passed a sign-up sheet around. Gingrich, we were told, would be there soon. 46 minutes later, the former House Speaker arrived. Apparently, there were technical issues that delayed a cable news interview Gingrich was scheduled to do prior to the Knoxville visit.

Gingrich has fallen behind schedule during each of the past two days while campaigning in Iowa. That reflects his entire campaign. They are woefully behind, with very little time to catch up. The consultants Gingrich frequently dismisses in his speeches would have been helpful in organizing the state over the past six months.

The former Georgia congressman did his best to sell the crowd on his ability to lead the nation. He was impressive, as usual. As his wife Callista stood by his side, Gingrich laid out his vision for America. Its full of well thought out ideas and strong rebukes of the current administration. Newt is at his best when discussing policy and history. This speech focused mostly on the former and it sounded good to those in attendance.

“I was pretty impressed,” said Ken Howard of Knoxville. “Much of the speech, I’d heard before in other speeches, but in person it’s a lot more personal. You seem to make a closer contact with the individual. I don’t think there’s any question about who has the most political experience of all the candidates running. One of the issues I have is electability.” Howard added that he thinks Gingrich is electable but “he’s got some ground to make up.”

Ken Howard says Gingrich is one of his final two choices for the Iowa Caucus. That was a recurring theme among most of the attendees TheIowaRepublican.com talked to after the event. Almost everyone is still considering voting for Newt Gingrich. However, he failed to close the sale. This close to the caucus, he needed to do that.

“I thought he did a marvelous job,” said Ann Adams of Knoxville. “I thought he did a wonderful job at the debates. He’s very knowledgeable and very polished. He definitely does not need a teleprompter.”

Adams is undecided between Gingrich and Mitt Romney. She said Gingrich helped his cause, at least with her, by campaigning in Knoxville. “I think anytime you see someone in person and hear him it makes more of an impression.”

The folks in Knoxville make an excellent case for retail politics. The campaign plans a last minute barnstorming tour of Iowa, although his staff says the 44-city tour Gingrich announced Monday is likely to be reduced.

Newt Gingrich needs to visit as many Iowa towns as possible between now and January 3. There are no more debates or forums, which he has excelled in. The campaign needs well-organized, well-attended tour stops where the former House Speaker can deliver retail politics to a vast array of caucus goers. His stop in Oskaloosa on Tuesday was extremely well attended. The campaign needs more of those.

They have no choice. Much of Gingrich’s support is slipping away. The overbearing weight of the constant attacks is drowning out his mostly positive message. Newt’s only option is to tell his story, face-to-face, with the people of Iowa. Otherwise, his campaign will find itself in the same predicament faced by Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain months earlier: a quick rise, followed by a hard fall.

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Photo by Dave Davidson, Prezography.com

About the Author

Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor's office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad's 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for TheIowaRepublican.com.

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