Gingrich’s challenge is to keep his momentum going a bit longer than the other Republicans who have vied for the role of chief rival to Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.
Gingrich entered the contest with enough baggage to prompt skepticism that his campaign could go anywhere. He had an extramarital affair with the woman who is now his third wife, and as House speaker he was sanctioned for ethical violations. More recently, he has had to fend off questions about a report that he received between $1.6 million and $1.8 million in consulting fees for advising Freddie Mac, a federally backed housing finance giant that is despised by conservatives.
“He’s got obvious vulnerabilities,” said James McCloskey, 38, who came to see Gingrich in Manchester on Monday. “Between Freddie Mac and his marriages, he’s going to have to answer some tough questions. But he’s an absolutely brilliant mind.”
Gingrich said Monday that he is better positioned than his rivals to last. The way he sees it, his decades in Washington don’t make him an insider, because he offers an anti-establishment message that appeals to conservatives. And because of his years in Washington, he has the policy background — and a Rolodex of national contacts — to help him attract votes.
“I don’t take Washington seriously,” Gingrich said. “I don’t go in and say, ‘What are the norms in Washington?’ I say, ‘Let’s establish new norms.’ ”
Gingrich’s proposal to reform entitlements was a case in point. His plan was an amalgamation of ideas he has already broached and that Republicans have supported in the past — creating private savings account in lieu of the current Social Security program, empowering states to administer Medicaid with federal block grants. But Gingrich also took it a step further. Food stamps must go, he said. Public housing, too. Kids should take jobs in their schools — both to acquire a work ethic and to replace janitors whose union contracts pay them too much.
On a day when Romney was campaigning just a few miles down the road, Gingrich was also, more subtly, going after his chief rival for being a more status-quo candidate.
“I have a DNA model in my head,” Gingrich said. “What I want to do is different from traditional politics and government.”