Newt Gingrich had the look of a tired and defeated man as he casually walked into the meeting room of the Le Mars Public Library on Friday. At least, that was my first impression as I shook hands with the former U.S. House speaker. This was not the same vivacious Gingrich that I had met two months earlier. The big smile and firm handshake were replaced by a forced grin and barely audible greeting.
If Newt was feeling defeated, it was easy to understand why. He underwent a brutal week of criticism from all sides of the political spectrum. It began on last Sunday’s “Meet the Press” after Gingrich criticized Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. The backlash from those comments was severe and eventually forced a public apology.
Newt’s rough week also included an Iowa activist telling him, in front of TV cameras, he should “get out now before you make a bigger fool of yourself”. On Tuesday, a gay rights protestor dumped glitter on Gingrich and his wife at a book signing. Then word came out that they ran up a $500,000 debt at Tiffany’s. One week after he launched his presidential campaign, the pundits were declaring Gingrich had already lost.
However, if you attended any of Gingrich’s town hall meetings across Iowa, you saw quite a different story. At every single one of his 17 stops, Gingrich packed the house. The other presidential candidates would love to be able to draw crowds the way Gingrich did last week. At this point, none of them have proven they can. TheIowaRepublican.com caught up with Gingrich toward the end of the tour on Friday, after he talked to a crowd of 65 in Le Mars. (SEE THE VIDEO BELOW)
“The fascinating thing is, of all the people who talk on Washington television, only one has come to Iowa to see what’s actually happening,” Gingrich said. “And she ended up saying ‘You know, this is a real campaign, with real support’, and she was just totally turned around because she came to two meetings, they were both overflow, they both had to go to a bigger room. And she looked around and she said ‘This doesn’t resemble anything the Washington reporters are talking about’. So, I invite anybody who would like to see what’s happening in the real campaign to come out and spend a day with me.”
Although Gingrich might have been exhausted from his interminably long week, you would not have known it once he began speaking to the Le Mars crowd. Gingrich’s appeal comes in his ability to talk about complicated policy issues and break them down into simple terms. Frankly, there is no politician in America that can match Gingrich’s ability to do this. That is what made him such a popular guest on Fox News Channel.
“I was very impressed,” said Scott Ihrke, a former Plymouth County GOP chairman. “He was very eloquent, but kept it very simple and made it easy for us to understand the way he wants to go. I think he’s able to bridge the gap between conservatives and middle-of-the-road Republicans.” Ihrke added that he is leaning toward supporting Gingrich.
Interestingly, although the Paul Ryan/Medicare issue continued to be the talk of the media throughout the week, it never came up in Le Mars. Kathy Winter of Sibley grilled Gingrich on a passage in one of his books where he appeared to support an individual mandate for healthcare. Gingrich responded by saying he now favors a tax credit for people who buy health insurance. Winter was not completely satisfied with Gingrich’s response. “He had a lot of good information,” Winter said. “I am concerned that at one point in time he thought the individual mandate was the way to go. He clearly said that in his book.”
Whether the questions are difficult ones or softballs, Gingrich clearly takes pleasure in responding to them. “People seem to be interested in serious things,” Gingrich said. “They’re interested in the country. They’re interested in the economy. It’s very impressive to me how serious the citizens who come out are taking this process.”
Mike Nemmers of Lemars favors Herman Cain, but he was also impressed by Gingrich. “He has big ideas,” Nemmers said. “He presented himself as a change agent, which is what we need. Not just somebody who offers platitudes. Not this hopey, changey stuff.”
Although many people believe Newt Gingrich’s presidential prospects are over, no candidate has a clear path to victory at this point. Presumed frontrunners like Mike Huckabee and Mitch Daniels are not running. Mitt Romney seems fearful to expend a lot of energy in Iowa. Gingrich could still emerge from the crowded field.
“Well, I think if you asked the people in there, I suspect none of them thought this was the end of the road,” Gingrich said. “I think they thought it was the beginning of the road.” That road to the Iowa Caucus is an extremely long one. Perhaps Newt’s biggest potholes and speed bumps are behind him.
Photo by Dave Davidson
blog comments powered by Disqus