KNOXVILLE, Iowa — The unorthodoxy of Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign will either make or break him, and it will happen in Iowa, where he is bleeding support under a hail of harsh TV advertising from opponents and their allies.
Gingrich’s answer to the barrage has been to try to stay “nice.” It’s a strategy that not only defies the former House speaker’s instinct for combat but also is producing uncertain results as it is pitted against the proven effectiveness of negative ads — particularly the millions of dollars’ worth that are piping through Iowa televisions in these final two weeks before the Jan. 3 caucuses.
Newt Gingrich continued to knock negative campaigning by Republican opponents on a campaign stop in Knoxville, Iowa, Tuesday. (Dec. 21)
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Staying positive is not the only way in which Gingrich is following an unconventional script. Until this month, Gingrich’s campaign staff featured virtually no one who had worked on a presidential campaign.
The candidate expresses his disdain for paid consultants every chance he gets. He celebrates the young man from Topeka who runs the candidate’s Twitter feeds from the counter of his father’s auto-repair shop — and the social-media executive from California who moonlights in charge of Gingrich’s Facebook page.
Most of all, Gingrich relies on his own instinct, an almost religious faith that — even without a traditional campaign operation — his knowledge, experience and way with words will carry the day.
The danger for him is taking it too far.
‘I need your help’
Gingrich’s resolve to fight the Iowa advertising onslaught by staying positive puts that confidence on vivid display even as it displays the risks. The approach dominated his appearances during a three-day swing through Iowa this week and steered him away from his message of bringing years of conservative leadership to the tasks of fixing the economy and Washington.
“I want to do this based on positive ideas, not on negative campaigning, and I need your help to make that work,” Gingrich told a crowd of about 100 supporters at the Swamp Fox Pub here this week. “If somebody wanted to create ‘Iowans for a Positive Campaign,’ I think the number of people who would join it overnight would be amazing.”
The displays have made his aides increasingly nervous and prompted some to urge him to get back on script. But Gingrich is doing what he thinks he has to do to survive. His campaign shot to the top of the polls last month after spending much of the year at the back of the pack. He and an independent committee supporting him are playing catch-up to build the organization and raise the money they need to stand up to the assault. Meanwhile, a series of public polls show Gingrich’s position slipping in the midst of the barrage of ads.
The attacks have flooded the airwaves in ads paid for by the campaigns of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), as well as an independent super PAC supporting former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Among the topics: Gingrich’s acceptance of $1.6 million in payment from federally backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac; his support for taxpayer funding of “some abortions”; and the ethics investigation of him when he was speaker about his use of tax-exempt funds for a partisan educational program.