In June, after his top advisers bolted, Newt Gingrich was supposed to be finished. Four months later, after a series of sharp debates, his poll numbers are climbing and his coffers are stuffed. Behind the scenes, his aides aim to capitalize on the resurrection.
“There is plenty of room,” says R. C. Hammond, the campaign spokesman. He bets that by early January, when New Hampshire and Iowa are blanketed by snow, Gingrich’s “tortoise” campaign will inch ahead.
That optimism is backed up by cash, Hammond says. In the past week, the campaign has raised more money — nearly $200,000 — than it collected in July, the month the campaign nearly collapsed. The capital infusion has enabled Gingrich to hire early-state staffers, such as tea-party leader Andrew Hemingway in New Hampshire, and produce a slew of Web videos.
It is also erasing, albeit slowly, what has been a looming problem: the campaign’s debts. According to federal election filings, Gingrich reported over $1 million in debts through September 30, a figure nearly identical to when his initial senior team departed.
In presidential politics, such a hole can knock you out of the race; debt was, for example, a major factor in Tim Pawlenty’s withdrawal. Gingrich’s campaign has endured, Hammond says, by subsisting on the approximately $800,000 it has raised since July.
Gingrich’s inner circle, once a high-profile coterie of wonks and politicos dubbed “Newt Inc.,” was pared down. In recent months, only a handful of loyalists have remained on payroll, and they often work from home to save on expenses.
At one point, when prospects were dim, staffers shared a couple of Verizon wireless cards for their laptops, in order to avoid paying for office-wide Internet service.
Gingrich, for his part, has not flown on chartered aircraft since May, taking commercial flights to Des Moines and Manchester from his home in northern Virginia. He often travels with a lone staffer, if that. On the ground, grassroots activists are coordinating volunteers.
With about $500,000 in the bank, “we’ve been running lean,” Hammond says, and with much of the race centered on the debates, “that’s been the focus.”
Indeed, with dwindling funds, the campaign never attempted to engineer any grand comeback strategy, even when things were bleak and closing shop remained a distinct possibility. The immediate goal was surviving.
During a normal week, Gingrich would appear at events — maybe a speech in Iowa and another in South Carolina — but he would never spend weeks on the trail, burning cash. The little things that lead to strong debates — reviewing news items and making sure Gingrich had a Diet Coke before he went on stage — became priorities for his aides.
Back home in Virginia, Gingrich would, for the most part, keep quiet, in order to save money. Attending the next cattle call or debate was important, but unrelated political events and other potential commitments were axed from the schedule. His press load was lightened, with few interviews granted beyond Fox News and friendly radio outlets in primary states or the occasional Sunday-morning talk program.
When not on the phone with Amy Pass, his top money raiser, about fresh leads, he’d map his updated “Contract with America,” call close friends, and eye how “Lean Six Sigma,” a waste-reduction program popular with corporations, could be implemented within the federal government. He’d read and write history, taking notes about potential stories to weave into his public remarks or debate rhetoric.