Over the weekend, a number of articles were written about the inadequacies of Newt Gingrich’s Iowa campaign. The criticisms are justified, but they also fall short in explaining why Gingrich’s lack of campaign events is risky.
Even though Gingrich seems uninterested in retail campaigning in Iowa, there is no doubt that he will make appearance is each of the state’s media markets before the caucuses. In fact, Gingrich will appear in Davenport and Cedar Rapids tomorrow night, earning him media coverage all over eastern Iowa.
I’m also sympathetic to the idea that Gingrich should spend Christmas in Iowa. In many ways, we Iowans like to adopt the candidates as our own. The thought of seeing them at church, the ice rink, or at a popular local restaurant would rekindle stories of past-caucuses.
We have already seen candidates make various pilgrimages to Iowa landmarks and notable eateries. We have also seen other candidates don orange vests and hunting gear for hunting trips. The media has also been summoned to watch candidates drag Christmas trees to their offices. While Gingrich has done very little of this, it’s not the lack of photo ops that will knock his quest for the Republican nomination off the tracks.
Gingrich needs to spend as much time as humanly possible in Iowa between now and the caucuses in an effort to respond to all of the attacks that are being leveled against him. We all know that Gingrich is a brilliant debater, but those skills can also help him soothe the concerns of Iowa caucus goers if he is willing to stand before them and answer questions. Making himself available like that would also help insulate him from further attacks.
Not only could Gingrich respond to the millions of dollars of ads that are painting him in a bad light, but he would also get tons of earned media in the local paper, radio and TV stations. Gingrich could also turn the tables on those who are running ads against him. In large part, those who are attacking Gingrich are not campaigning in the state.
In answering the charges against him, Gingrich could ask the audience why Mitt Romney, or Ron Paul for that matter, isn’t traveling across Iowa to ask for their vote. It would be easy for Gingrich to say that those who are attacking him are more interested in tearing him down than growing their own support. However, he must be present to do so.
In the month of November, nine of the eleven events that Gingrich held were either multi candidate events, or business and school visits. Only two events were Gingrich campaign events, and one of them was a movie viewing and book signing. The one event in November that was a straight up town hall meeting was so packed that some people left because so many people turned out.
It’s not that stops and businesses are not productive for campaigns, but the key is to get in front of people who are likely to attend the caucuses. Visiting schools and businesses may get you in front of some caucus goers, but those who show up at town hall meetings are more likely to show up at their local caucus on January 3rd.
So far, Gingrich has continued to avoid town hall meetings in December. After his trip tomorrow, he will have held two in addition to his office grand opening.
Here is the problem that Gingrich’s current strategy presents. My older brother is a big fan of Gingrich. In fact, he credits Gingrich for the reason why he’s a Republican. In politics, we call that low hanging fruit. He always asks me to tell him when Gingrich will be in town. Well, Gingrich is in town tomorrow, but he’s visiting employees at a private business.
There is no doubt in my mind that there is a lot of low hanging fruit out there for Gingrich to harvest, but he doesn’t seem interested in doing what it takes to activate people. My brother is an easy sale, but there are also other candidates that he likes that give him opportunities to engage with the campaign.
If Gingrich is serious about winning, he needs to make himself accessible. After talking to a number of Iowa Republicans, it’s clear that they are willing to overlook some blemishes on Gingrich’s record because they truly like him, and appreciate all he has done. Gingrich is foolish to take these people for granted.
For a candidate who wants to have seven three-hour Lincoln/Douglas debates with President Obama, it seems a little odd that he doesn’t seem to want to debate Iowa caucuses goers. I actually think he would enjoy it, and more importantly it would help him win.
Photo by Dave Davidson – Prezography.com
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