As the Republican presidential candidates prepare for another debate, this one Saturday night in South Carolina, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been campaigning in New Hampshire.
He opened up his state headquarters Friday, buoyed by some recent polls that show his support increasing among Republican voters. A new CBS poll has him tied for second place with Mitt Romney, behind Herman Cain.
For the 68-year-old Gingrich, who had been languishing in the second tier of contenders in the crowded GOP field, his slow but steady climb into the top rank is a vindication.
His campaign bottomed out in June, when most of his staff quit. There were the revelations about his line of credit at Tiffany’s, and a sense that he was a vanity candidate, running for office as a way to plug his books and movie projects.
Now, he says, Republican voters are paying attention to his message.
“I think we’re in a period where people want substance, because they think it’s real: This isn’t just politics — this is history, this is the future of our country,” he says. “So I think gradually I’m getting more and more rewarded, if you will, by support for having a serious, substantive approach to how do we govern America.”
History is a recurring theme with Gingrich. He peppers his remarks with historical anecdotes and factoids. And hearing him is a little like sitting in on a survey class of world and American history. Not surprising, since Gingrich used to teach such a course before getting into politics.
Gingrich spoke Thursday night at a candidates’ forum in southern New Hampshire sponsored by the Granite State Patriots Liberty PAC. Along with history, Gingrich also addressed current events.
He dismissed the congressional supercommittee trying to cut the deficit in Washington as a failure. He blasted the Obama administration for actively opposing anti-immigration laws passed by Arizona and Alabama. And he criticized the House Republicans, whom he used to lead, for not fighting back.
“The idea of the Obama administration filing a lawsuit against an American state is just simply unimaginable,” he said. “And the fact that we have not introduced an amendment and cut off all funding to the Justice Department to finance this, I think is just a failure of imagination among the House Republicans to understand: Cut off the money.”
Gingrich brought the group to its feet when the moderator asked him what he sees as the biggest constitutional failing of the Obama administration.
Gingrich answered: “Not understanding which country he’s president of.”
That kind of red meat positions Gingrich to fill the space to the right of Mitt Romney. And it goes over well with Republicans like Margie and Jeffrey Diggins of Fremont, N.H., who both wore Newt 2012 stickers.
“He’s the smartest man in any room, and I would love to see him debate Obama,” said Margie Diggins. “I just think that would be a great thing for America.”
Added Jeffrey Diggins: “Newt Gingrich is the most honest, honorable person running for the Republican ticket, and when I think about my granddaughter and about my daughter and my family, I can’t think of anyone else that I’d rather have as president of the United States than Newt Gingrich.”
Gingrich appears to have benefited from stumbles by others in the race, like Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. He is pinning his hopes on finishing in the top three in Iowa and close to Romney here in New Hampshire, and then winning South Carolina and Florida.
If that scenario seemed highly unlikely last spring, it’s a little less so now. And if he pulls it off, Gingrich will be making some history of his own.