Gingrich’s dramatic rise — he now leads national and some state polls, including a new Washington Post-ABC News poll in Iowa — has put serious and unexpected pressure on Romney to adapt and intensify his campaign, which to this point has been both disciplined and unexciting. Steady-as-you-go remains the operative phrase from his Boston headquarters, but other Republican strategists say tactical changes are afoot to deal with the Gingrich threat.
Those changes include a sharper economic message, implicit and explicit contrasts with Gingrich and greater openness with the media. Romney, who has struggled to rally rank-and-file Republicans, is also likely to play on establishment GOP fears about Gingrich as the party’s nominee against President Obama.
Gingrich, in turn, is scrambling to build, almost from scratch, a campaign operation that can match the good fortune of his newfound support. Lacking the funds or the infrastructure of the Romney campaign, Gingrich is looking for a quick infusion of money while urgently adding staff to handle the demands of building organizations in many states at once.
One example of the challenges he faces could be seen early Tuesday evening at his Iowa campaign headquarters in suburban Des Moines. Dozens of cellphones, newly arrived, were being charged in the mostly empty space. Just two volunteers — a mother and grandmother, both from out of state — were making calls. A campaign official said more help is on the way.
Gingrich is trying to hire some former staff members from Herman Cain’s campaign to shore up his organizational efforts in key states. A GOP strategist, who declined to be identified in order to talk openly about the campaign, said Gingrich hopes to roll out endorsements from members of Congress, in part to counter the assertion that he alienated many of his colleagues as House speaker in the 1990s.
The Republican nomination contest could last for months, and some senior Republican leaders say it is still too early to call the competition a two-person race. The answers to both questions will come in January and early February, when five states are scheduled to hold contests: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada. Romney is favored in New Hampshire and Nevada;Gingrich is now the favorite in Iowa and South Carolina.
Of the two campaigns, Romney’s has been preparing far longer for a potentially lengthy nomination battle. But that means Romney cannot allow Gingrich to embarrass him in January. As one strategist put it, “Romney cannot afford to lose two in a row. Thus, Florida is key.”