Now that Newt Gingrich has emerged as Mitt Romney’s main threat in the Republican presidential race, he has to ramp up a campaign operation that has only 24 paid full-time staffers in the first three primary states, Politico reports.
The former House Speaker has risen to the top of the polls on the strength of his debate performances. But his campaign operation has been skeletal since most of his original staff quit in June.
In many ways Gingrich is acting as his own campaign manager, writing strategy memos to his staff and personally receiving and responding to emails from heavyweight backers. His top assistants include long-time friends and colleagues, including his wife, Callista.
Unlike many of the other candidates, Gingrich often returns home on Sundays so that Callista can sing in their church’s basilica. That act of faith will likely play well with the key voting bloc of evangelical Christians in Iowa. But it also means that Gingrich misses valuable time that could be spent campaigning.
The mom-and-pop campaign isn’t going to cut it if Gingrich expects to challenge former Massachusetts Gov. Romney over the long haul.
“Let’s be honest, Newt Gingrich’s whole strategy in the campaign was to do [well in] the debates,” Chip Saltsman, who managed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential bid, told Politico.
“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, it’s a pretty good strategy. Now he’s got to deliver on votes and turnout, and right now he’s at the crest on his ‘Newtmentum.' I would always advise against being one’s own campaign manager. Here’s why: The candidate needs to be the candidate to kind of focus on what he wants to talk about.”
If Gingrich doesn’t put together a more professional campaign operation, he may fade just like Huckabee did after winning the Iowa primary last time around, Saltsman said.
Gingrich isn’t in denial as to his predicament. “This is disorienting. This is such a rapid change that we’re having to rethink our own internal operations right now and where we are,” he told reporters after addressing a Polk County, Iowa, GOP event Thursday night.
Knowledgeable sources tell Politico that Gingrich’s campaign staff will soon expand. He opened a campaign headquarters in Iowa just this week. It’s located in Urbandale, and is the only one planned. Gingrich has six paid staffers there.
The Iowa campaign doesn’t have time to organize the comprehensive voter turnout push that is needed to win the caucuses there, a Gingrich adviser in the state told Politico. “In three weeks, four weeks, to say we’re gonna have 99 county chairs? No,” the adviser said.
In New Hampshire Gingrich has eight paid staffers and brought in conservative activist Andrew Hemingway as state campaign director just a month ago. The campaign now has “every county with county captains, a couple with multiple,” Hemingway told Politico. But he acknowledged that the operation is trying to make up for lost time.
“There’s not enough time,” he said. “We’re not going to go out and ID all 100,000 voters. It’s all grassroots.” Hemingway said the national campaign is giving New Hampshire staffers the opportunity to run their own show. The attitude of the national staff is “hey, you know New Hampshire best. So you use the resources we have to go and win,” he said.
If Gingrich makes it through the first three primaries/caucuses – South Carolina is the third – he’ll have to worry about the rest of the country: States in which Romney already is well organized.
Gingrich is well behind in the simple but crucial step of getting on state ballots. Romney already has taken that step in numerous states with primaries after January, including Texas, Vermont and Missouri, Politico discovered. Gingrich hasn’t, and he has decided to bag the Missouri primary.
So how does the Gingrich campaign plan to deal with its handicap? “We’ll just keep going,” Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond told Politico.
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