wpostServer: http://css.washingtonpost.com/wpost2

Newt Gingrich: Assessing the damage done

at 07:17 AM ET, 06/01/2011


Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has struggled at the start of his presidential bid. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Two weeks removed from a political meltdown over his critique of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is beginning to see the political damage done.

In a new Gallup poll, Gingrich’s favorable ratings among Republican voters have fallen to just 61 percent, down from a high of 75 percent in early April.

His positive intensity score — a measurement used by Gallup that takes the percentage of people who feel strongly favorably and subtracts the percentage who feel strongly unfavorably — is now at just six, the second lowest of all possible 2012 candidates. (The lowest? Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, who had a positive intensity score of just four.)

Compounding Gingrich’s political problem is the fact that, unlike Johnson or even former Utah governor Jon Huntsman (positive intensity score of eight), Gingrich is among the best-known candidates in the field — with 85 percent of GOP voters recognizing his name.

The numbers suggest Gingrich’s campaign has sustained a blow. Can he recover?

Rich Galen, a former aide to Gingrich, says no. “No one’s even talking about him any more,” said Galen.

Others were less willing to proclaim Gingrich’s campaign over almost before it started, noting that the first votes of the 2012 campaign aren’t until next February — a reality that gives Gingrich plenty of time to make up ground.

“He stumbled out of the starting gate and the latest numbers reflect some pretty harsh earned media,” said one senior Republican strategist who has closely followed Gingrich’s political career. “But it’s early and the situation is still fluid, so if he keeps his head down and plows through it, he will get a fair hearing from primary voters.”

Gingrich himself has gone oddly quiet; he has no public events on his schedule for this week. Spokesman Rick Tyler explained that Gingrich and his wife are on vacation. “Newt and Callista planned to take time off this week early in the campaign,” said Tyler. “Newt will be back next week with a trip to New Hampshire. He will then be preparing for the debate.”

What’s clear from the Gallup numbers is that Gingrich has a major political problem on his hands. He is well known but not viewed strongly favorably by the people most likely to decide the identity of the party’s nominee next year.

Unlike relative unknowns like Huntsman, businessman Herman Cain (37 percent name recognition) or former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (50 percent name recognition), Gingrich is close to his ceiling in terms of name ID. His room to grow is decidedly limited.

“The key for Newt is to focus on his policy ideas and solutions for problems facing the country, which is his strength,” said Republican pollster David Winston. “When the discussion about him is not about that, he does not do as well.”

That reality means that Gingrich has to find a way to re-introduce himself to GOP voters over the coming weeks and months, which is no small task for a man who was the face of the Republican party for much of the 1990s.

It’s an uphill battle, but time is on Gingrich’s side. The Iowa caucuses are still 251 days away.

DeMint now weighing White House bid: After previously declining to run, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) now says he will consider running for president.

DeMint says conservative activists who are unhappy with their choices so far have urged him to run, and he will hear them out.

“It’s humbling and out of respect, my wife and I have talked about it,” DeMint told The Hill. “Out of respect for the people who have asked us to think about this, that’s what we’re going to do. I don’t want to imply that I’m changing in mind, but I want to consider what all these folks are doing.”

DeMint becomes the second big-name candidate to go from ’I’m not running’ to ‘I’ll think about it,’ joining Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R). Both, as it happens, fit about the same mold: tea party favorites who have held high political office.

Meanwhile, another candidate being urged to run — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christieis going to Iowa, though he insists he still isn’t going to run.

Hasner lands big-name D.C. support: Florida state Rep. Adam Hasner’s (R) Senate campaign is holding a fundraiser in Washington on Tuesday, and the host list is rather impressive for a state legislator making his first run at major office.

Among the hosts are former George W. Bush aides Ari Fleischer and Dan Senor.

The reception will take place on the rooftop of Liberty Place.

Hasner faces a primary with state Senate President Mike Haridopolos and former senator George LeMieux. The winner gets Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.).

Weiner not talking: Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) is still getting bombarded with questions over a lewd image that was linked to by his Twitter account, and he says he’s done answering questions about it.

Weiner has said that his Twitter account was hacked late last week, when the tweet briefly appeared before being deleted.

During an odd press conference Tuesday, Weiner told reporters to respect his silence and said he was tired of answering questions.

That tack, of course, is only likely to raise whatever suspicions are still out there. We would wager this is not the last Weiner will have to say on the matter.

Huntsman embraces Ryan: Former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman waded into the Medicare debate Tuesday, embracing Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan more than the other major presidential candidates have.

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Huntsman says that those who disagree with Ryan’s plan “incur a moral responsibility to propose reforms” of their own.

In an interview with RealClearPolitics published yesterday, Huntsman said Ryan was one of the two living Republican he admired the most. The other was former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

Huntsman endorsed Ryan’s plan in an ABC News interview two weeks ago, saying “we’ve got to be bold, and we’ve got to have, I think, proposals on the table that perhaps, in years past, would’ve been laughed out of the room.”

Huntsman, known for his moderate politics as governor, seems to be quickly staking out ground on the right — faster than either Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty.

Doctor-assisted suicide most controversial: The most divisive cultural issue at the moment is doctor-assisted suicide, according to a new Gallup poll. Forty-five percent of Americans say it’s morally acceptable, while 48 percent say it is morally wrong.

Abortion also remains controversial, with public opinion tilting against it in this poll. Fifty-one percent of Americans say abortion is morally wrong, and 39 percent disagree. Interestingly, according to the most recent Gallup poll, 49 percent of Americans consider themselves “pro-choice,” and 45 percent “pro-life.”

The least controversial cultural issue? Having an affair, which 91 percent of Americans say is morally wrong.

Fixbits:

Alaska officials will release 24,000 pages of Sarah Palin’s e-mails during her time as governor, thought another 2,400 will be withheld as ”privileged.”

A measure to raise the debt limit beyond $14.3 trillion without any coinciding cuts failed with less than 100 votes in the House on Tuesday. The vote was a symbolic one intitiated by Republicans to make a point about the need for budget cuts.

Florida’s redistricting amendments, which could rein in the GOP’s ability to draw favorable new legislative and congressional districts, has been given initial clearance by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Perry has added redistricting to the agenda for a special session. Perry had required legislators to formulate a proposal before he would put the item on the agenda. The Texas plan is already being roundly criticized by Democrats and minority groups.

Illinois’s controversial redistricting plan has passed in the state Senate and goes to Gov. Pat Quinn’s (D) desk now, where there is no reason to believe the governor won’t sign it. For more on the new map in the Land of Lincoln, check out our report from Tuesday.

Mitt Romney will raise money in St. Louis next week.

Must-reads:

Panel OKs recall elections against 3 more Republicans” — Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

A political revival for Ralph Reed” — Erik Eckholm, New York Times

 
Read what others are saying