Posted at 09:35 PM ET, 12/31/2011

Iowa caucuses: Volunteers for Gingrich, Santorum, Bachmann scramble for votes

URBANDALE, Iowa -- A worn-out looking Newt Gingrich made a surprise visit to his campaign headquarters here to rally the troops and make a few impromptu phone calls late Saturday afternoon.


Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, greets patrons as he stops for lunch at The Farmer's Kitchen restaurant in Atlantic, Iowa, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011. (Charles Dharapak - AP)

Gingrich, looking visibly tired, said he thinks he’s fighting the flu. He made a few quick calls to supporters, posed for pictures with volunteers and then ducked back onto his campaign bus, which was headed to Des Moines for the night.

About 60 volunteers manned the phones at Gingrich’s headquarters, where desks were partitioned into cubicles by giant Gingrich signs. Outside, license plates from Texas, Georgia, Indian, New York and Arkansas illustrated the distances some volunteers had traveled to work on Gingrich’s behalf.

Like his rivals, Gingrich’s campaign is working furiously to sign up precinct captains and caucus workers and turn the last undecided voters his way. Gingrich’s Iowa director, Craig Schoenfeld, said the campaign has increased the number of caucus speakers and precinct captains positioned to work on Gingrich’s behalf on caucus night from 100 to nearly 1,000.

“I was not prepared for this,” said Bill Curtis, 54, an oil-industry geologist from Austin who flew to Iowa to help Gingrich’s campaign. Curtis said the response he’s hearing on the telephone is overwhelmingly positive, despite Gingrich’s slide in the polls since his rivals have been barraging the airwaves with negative advertising. “I If this is any kind of scientific sample at all, we’re doing OK.”

Following release of the Des Moines Register poll on Saturday night that showed Gingrich’s support slipping to 12 percent, campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond said in an e-mail, “If this is the Superbowl, then we just saw the pre-game show. But, everyone knows the real action happens after kickoff.”

Around the corner at the headquarters of former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, the scene was quieter, with just a handful of volunteers manning the phones despite Santorum’s recent surge in the polls.

But at Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (Minn.) headquarters, a little farther down the road, more than two dozen students from Oral Roberts University were hard at work calling potential supporters after caravaning up to Iowa on Thursday. The campaign’s volunteer coordinator, Steve Hensler, had set up a bell for volunteers to ring when they scored a new Bachmann supporter; the bell rang every minute or so Saturday night. Hensler was also running egg races in the parking lot to keep morale up for a group of students who’d been working the phones for days.

Winston Frost, a professor at Oral Roberts University, helped coordinate the road trip for the student volunteers. Frost attended law school at Oral Roberts with Bachmann; he saw the candidate and her husband, Marcus, Saturday for the first time in 30 years. He’s a huge admirer and he remembers the whole class watching her take the front row on the first day of classes and quickly demonstrate her confidence and studious ways, he said.

“She’s the same person today she was on the first day of law school,” Frost said. “She has backbone and strength and consistency. She’s a wonderful role model, especially for women.”

By  |  09:35 PM ET, 12/31/2011

 
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