Newt Gingrich: He’s baaack!
Don’t call it a comeback! Actually, do. Sort of.
Over the past six weeks, a funny thing has happened in national polling in the Republican presidential race: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, thrown on the political scrap heap as recently as this summer, is back in the mix — in a major way.
In a new New York Times/CBS News national poll, Gingrich was alone in third place at 10 percent, trailing only businessman Herman Cain (25 percent) and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (21 percent). Among self-identified tea party supporters, Gingrich received 15 percent — roughly double the eight percent he got in mid September.
And Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said that the former House Speaker has raised more money already in October than he raised in the entire last three months combined.
What explains the Gingrich comeback?
“The Speaker is moving up because he has done well in the debates, he has a record of conservative accomplishment and he has the intellectual depth and rhetorical skills too go toe to toe with Obama,” explained Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole. “A lot of conservatives are giving him a second look.”
Cole’s right about the recent slew of debates working in Gingrich’s favor. As many expected he would, Gingrich has emerged as a kind of star in these forums — using his droll sense of humor, willingness to throw red meat to the conservative base and disdain for the mainstream media to regularly emerge as a winner in the after-action analyses of the debates.
Sam Dawson, a longtime adviser to Gingrich who left the campaign along with nearly every other senior staff in June, attributes his former boss’s recent success to the “great voter migration of 2011”.
What Dawson is referring to is the so-far-unrequited search by conservatives for an alternative to Romney. That search has elevated Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and now Cain. And it’s that phenomenon that may be giving Gingrich’s campaign a bit of a tailwind.
While Dawson acknowledges that Gingrich has “done a good job rehabbing his image” for his “post-campaign” career, he added that the problems that led to the former House Speaker’s first collapse in the presidential race are still present.
“The same old undisciplined Newt is still there,” said Dawson adding: “The root causes from the past will ruin the future.”
The Gingrich campaign implosion was the cause of a number of related factors: 1) Newt was resistant to raising money, preferring to deliver major policy speeches instead 2) A fundamental strategic disagreement between Gingrich and his senior advisers about how best to win the early-voting state of Iowa 3) A tin ear for negative publicity, highlighted (or low-lighted) by a three-week Greek cruise that he and his wife, Callista, embarked up just weeks after his formal entrance into the race.
At the heart of all of those problems was Gingrich’s insistence that the conventional wisdom about how to run a campaign was fundamentally flawed and that he could do a better job on his own.
While his recent polling bump might, at first glance, suggest that he was right, a closer inspection suggests that Gingrich remains very much a long shot to wind up as the Republican nominee.
First of all, Gingrich still has a money problem. While Gingrich’s recent fundraising burst is encouraging for his supporters, he has struggled to raise money since the start of the race. He collected just $808,000 between July and Sept. 30 and ended the third reporting period with $1.2 million in debt.
That much debt is never a good thing in a campaign but is made even worse by the fact that Gingrich’s personal lines of credit at Tiffany & Co. — a high-end jewelry store — drew national (and negative) headlines earlier this year.
The second issue for Gingrich is organization. He doesn’t have much of one in any of the early voting states.
One unaligned Iowa operative said that Gingrich has “no discernible organization on the ground at all,” adding: “There is no question, at least anecdotally as I talk to folks around the state, Newt enjoys some level of support among rank and file activists. There just isn’t any sort of organizational apparatus to turn those supporters into county chairs or precinct captains in the lead up to January 3.”
Without organization, taking advantage of the momentum — such as it is — that Gingrich currently enjoys is virtually impossible.
The final problem for Gingrich is that while he is moving on up in national polls, he remains mired in low single digits in the states likely to decide the identity of the nominee.
Those hurdles should curtail any sense that Gingrich’s recent rise in national polling is indicative of a broader re-emergence in the race. While Gingrich’s re-raised national profile will certainly help him sell books, there’s little evidence just yet that he can translate it into real votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond.