Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s campaign has been down and then up this year.
His top staffers resigned en masse in June, leading many to wonder whether he was out of the race. Then came debates in which the former speaker of the House shined.
Yet he didn’t really start campaigning in earnest until last month. And his style on the campaign trail has been evolving.
Gingrich is described as an experienced politician, an intellectual and the smartest person in the room. On the other hand, critics say he’s arrogant and undisciplined — too much of a thinker with too many ideas.
On the trail, the former history professor has a tendency to lecture audiences.
In Newberry, S.C., Gingrich told a packed crowd: “For people who talk about how you have to have simple-minded, short campaigns with 30-second attack ads, remember, the Federalist Papers are written so the American people understand the Constitution they’re about to vote on.”
Contrast that with this week’s appearance at a Hy-Vee grocery store in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, where Gingrich seemed to revel in the onslaught of attack ads against him and was more at ease with crowds of voters.
“People used to yell at Harry Truman, ‘Give them hell, Harry.’ And he’d always say, ‘I just tell the truth and it feels like hell,’ ” Gingrich said.
John Stineman, a GOP strategist in Des Moines, says Gingrich does better speaking to a large audience than he does going one-on-one with voters.
“He’s an inspirational speaker — he’s one of those handful of Republican leaders that can really articulate the message in an inspirational way,” he says. “Trouble is that when he does have to address more pointed questions and respond to the press or respond to a heckler, he can be a little bit acerbic, and that doesn’t necessarily play well in the room.”
But Stineman says Gingrich is improving. This week, Gingrich took a tough question from a woman about his perceived arrogance.
“You did an ABC interview where you said, ‘I’m going to be the nominee,’ ” she said. “I have been for you. I’ve been a big fan. But that felt a little bit presumptuous.”
Gingrich admitted to her and everyone in the audience that it was a mistake.
“The truth is this will be decided by the American people. This will not be decided by any one person — and that’s what I should have said, and I wasn’t very clever,” he said.
“I appreciate you actually saying it was a mistake,” the woman replied. “Nobody ever says that.”
“I make mistakes. I have made mistakes. When I make mistakes I’ll say to you, that was a boo-boo,” Gingrich said.
Later that day, at a coffeehouse in Oskaloosa, Iowa, another voter, Democrat Scott Arnold, asked the former speaker about his opposition to same-sex marriage. At first, Gingrich replied if voters care about jobs and national security, he’ll get their support.
When pressed further about same-sex marriage, which Arnold called the “most important” topic to many people, Gingrich said, “If that’s the most important to you, then you should be for Obama. I think that’s perfectly legitimate.”
“I am, but thank you,” Arnold said.
He wouldn’t back Gingrich anyway. But the former speaker did show more patience and didn’t just dismiss him.
Many GOP voters who came to see Gingrich this week are largely supportive — like real estate agent Michelle Purdum.
“I like his honesty. I really am hopeful that not only he but all of the candidates can keep it as clean as possible,” she said. “To me, a candidate’s actions need to speak louder than their words.”
Betting On The Positive
Gingrich is betting the majority of Iowa voters are turned off by the attacks from GOP rival Ron Paul and from the super PAC that supports former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The Gingrich campaign just released a soft Christmas ad featuring Gingrich and his wife, Callista.
In it, Callista Gingrich asks, “Is there anything more inspiring than American towns and neighborhoods brightly lit for the holidays?”
“We take it as a sign of great optimism. It reminds us of the fire of freedom that burns bright in the America we love,” her husband adds.
Many in Iowa say they’re torn over which GOP candidate to support. Gingrich is hoping his efforts to keep it positive will get these voters to come his way.