It would be difficult to find a more ardent supporter of Newt Gingrich in Iowa than Will Rogers. Over the past six years, Rogers has been by Gingrich’s side as he walked the midway of the Iowa State Fair. Whenever Gingrich needed someone in Iowa, he could always count on Rogers to be of assistance.
There are plenty of people who make the choice to for a presidential candidate in advance of the Iowa caucuses, but people like Will Rogers are different. He didn’t go out and shop his services around to other candidates. He didn’t try to get the best deal by pitting two candidates against each other in a bidding war for his services. There was never any doubt who Rogers would support in the caucuses, the only question was how involved would he be.
In April, Rogers took a leave of absence from his job to take an official role on Gingrich’s presidential exploratory committee. His decision left no doubt about how involved he would be in Gingrich’s presidential campaign. However, much to the surprise of many political insiders, Rogers made it known on Friday that he’s leaving Gingrich’s campaign and going back to his old job with the Iowa Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association.
While many will think that Roger’s decision is a result of the turbulent first few weeks of Gingrich’s campaign, neither the comments about the Ryan budget proposal nor his now paid off debt at a high-end jewelry store, Tiffany & Co, is the reason for Rogers decision to leave. In fact, Rogers insists that he is still supportive of Newt, but he’s going to take on a voluntary role with the campaign. What drove Rogers back to the private sector is the commitment of his candidate.
Gingrich is absent from this weekend’s Faith and Family Coalition event in Washington D.C. Instead, he is on vacation with his wife. The timing of the vacation is odd since most candidates plan their vacations before formally announcing their candidacy. Gingrich basically campaigned for two weeks before going on vacation. Rogers shed a little light on his decision in an interview with the LA Times.
“I don’t begrudge him and his wife having time together,” Rogers told the LA Times. “I do know it was not the most opportune time to go.”
He then went on to question Gingrich’s commitment to Iowa. “If he’s [Gingrich] serious, he will have to come back to Iowa.” When pressed on whether or not Gingrich is taking Iowa seriously, Rogers added, “That’s an open question right now.”
After seeing Rogers’ comments to the LA Times, it’s easy to see why he chose to return to the private sector. Why leave a job that you love to work on a campaign, if that campaign you support isn’t as invested as you have proven to be.
Rogers’ departure paints a very ominous picture for Gingrich’s Iowa campaign. Gingrich has plenty of talented politicos on his Iowa team, but it’s guys like Rogers who can make a huge difference for a candidate in a caucus state.
At a campaign stop in Ames a couple weeks ago, Gingrich was late because of an interview he was doing with Rush Limbaugh about the Paul Ryan fiasco. Rogers worked the room like he was the candidate himself, going table to table talking to the folks who turned out to see his candidate. Iowa caucus campaigns are all about building relationships, and Rogers has never been shy in striking up a conversation, even with a complete stranger.
Passionate supporters like Rogers are hard to find for any candidate, let alone one who has been put through the ringer like Gingrich recently has. Sure, Gingrich can find a new Iowa political director, but he’s not going to be able to replace what he had in Rogers.
After talking to Rogers on Friday afternoon, it’s clear he still believes in Newt Gingrich, just not enough to continue to work for him. Rogers’ departure is yet another major blow for Gingrich’s fledgling presidential campaign.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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