WASHINGTON — By most conventional measures of a campaign’s strength, Newt Gingrich has no business being a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.
Consider the following:
• Gingrich only this week opened a full-time campaign office in Iowa, the first caucus state.
• He failed to submit the full slate of delegates for the ballot in New Hampshire, the first primary state.
• He missed the deadline to qualify for the ballot in Missouri, a primary where no delegates are at stake, but all other candidates’ names will be listed.
• And since he announced, his schedule has had seemingly as many events to promote his books and films than to court primary votes.
Count Gingrich himself among those most surprised at the turn of events.
“We’re having to redesign our campaign strategy because we’re at least 60 days ahead of where I thought we’d be,” Gingrich told Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity in a Wednesday interview.
Part of that means staffing up. A Gingrich spokesman Thursday said he now has six paid staffers in Iowa, with plans to accommodate seven offices in the state. In New Hampshire, he has eight paid staffers, with offices open in Manchester, Dover and Littleton. And in South Carolina, he has 10 paid staffers, with five offices open in the state.
The way Gingrich sees it, Mitt Romney may have now lost his claim to be the GOP front-runner.
“We may actually see a totally different dynamic than anybody could have predicted even a month ago, including me. Whereas I would have thought originally it was going to be Mitt and not-Mitt… it may turn out to be Newt and not-Newt,” he told Fox.
Gingrich’s campaign was left for dead when most of his campaign staff abandoned him this summer and he had more debt than cash on hand. But the endless string of debates gave him a regular platform for base-pleasing attacks on Democrats and the media.
Soon enough, it was Gingrich’s turn in what has been a rotating cast of anti-Mitt front-runners. But his turn on top seems to have a staying power that the others didn’t.
Just as he was clearly emerging as a major threat, Gingrich made what some thought could be a major error, embracing a “humane” approach to illegal immigration that his rivals immediately labeled “amnesty.”
Gingrich has punched back hard, though, particularly against Romney.
In an interview with a South Carolina radio station on Monday, Gingrich called himself a “solid conservative alternative” to the former Massachusetts governor.
“I don’t claim to be the perfect candidate. I just claim to be a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney,” he said.
Romney shot back in his on Fox interview, saying Gingrich was a “lifelong politician,” and that he was better-suited to take on President Barack Obama. Gingrich, on the campaign trail, responded that he was actually just a “lifelong citizen.”
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the GOP race thus far, is that the candidates can be their own worst enemies. And now that he’s in the spotlight, Gingrich’s rhetorical flourishes are getting wider notice.
In that same Fox interview, Gingrich said he “led the effort to defeat communism” while in Congress. Earlier this week, in South Carolina, he brushed off questions about whether he was a lobbyist by saying he made too much money — $60,000 a pop—on the speaker’s circuit.
“And the number of speeches was going up, not down,” he said. “Normally, celebrities leave and they gradually sell fewer speeches every year.”
And other candidates now have Gingrich in their crosshairs. Ron Paul’s campaign released a web video this week with a greatest-hits reel of Gingrich statements that deviated from conservative orthodoxy, calling him a “serial hypocrite.”
It includes his interview early in the campaign criticizing Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan, and a public service announcement he recorded years back with Nancy Pelosi advocating action to address climate change. It also highlights reports of money he made for what he called consulting deals with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.