Newt Gingrich is building an organization to rival Mitt Romney’s in the latter’s effective home state, New Hampshire.
The ex-speaker hired his state director, Andrew Hemingway, less than two months ago. Since that time, however, the campaign has opened five offices, added 13 paid staffers, and recruited over 1,000 volunteers. By knocking on doors and making calls, the campaign has contacted 15,000 people, Hemingway tells National Review Online.
The campaign is culling aides from the remains of its rivals’ operations. Two former staffers for Michele Bachmann, Matt Leduc and Jeff Chidester, have jumped aboard, as has a former supporter of Rick Perry, Bob Burns. Herman Cain’s former state director, James Coughlin, and former field director, Charlie Spano, have also joined the Gingrich group.
But the campaign is also wooing voters, particularly former supporters of Cain. “The vast majority of people who spoke to me . . . went to Newt,” says Jack Kimball, former chairman of Cain’s state campaign. The tea-party favorite recently endorsed Gingrich. Although the speaker’s campaign had offered Kimball “a pretty-decent-level position,” Kimball declined. Instead, he will be a one-man “advocate for Newt,” though he is offering the Gingrich campaign space in his office in Portsmouth.
Former senator Bob Smith (R., N.H.) also has endorsed Gingrich. For the past two weeks, Smith has been campaigning in the Granite State for the former speaker, despite the fact that Smith now lives in Sarasota, Fla. “I hadn’t planned on getting involved,” Smith says. “I was just impressed with his conduct in the debates.”
As were many voters. “What I hear every single day is ‘Boy, would I like to see Newt Gingrich debate Barack Obama,’” Smith relates.
Conservative talk-show host Al Kulas agrees. “The reason so many people are getting behind Newt is that he is the only one that they feel confident about putting head-to-head with Obama in a debate.”
But there’s another facet to Gingrich’s appeal: his experience. “He’s the only candidate who’s actually put forth a balanced budget, eliminated the deficit, and produced a surplus,” Kimball argues.
“He has the inside knowledge to be able to take on the establishment,” Smith adds. “He was part of it; he knows how it works.”
When asked why many of Gingrich’s congressional colleagues have criticized his leadership, Kimball replies, “This is a different Newt Gingrich than he was 15 years ago.”
“What are they going to do? Vote for Obama?” Smith asks.
Moreover, Gingrich’s allies argue that Romney’s organization could hurt him — or at least the people in his organization could. His attack dog in recent days has been former governor John Sununu, who drew tea partiers’ ire for pressuring Kimball to resign from the state party’s chairmanship.
“If Romney wanted to solidify his standing as the establishment, old-guard Republican, he got it with Sununu,” says Phyllis Woods, the Republican national committeewoman for the state. (Woods does note that Sununu “carries a lot of gravitas” and that “not everybody is anti-establishment.”)
The outreach by Romney’s campaign has also faltered at times. Former Nashua mayor Bernie Streeter recounts his experience: “When I signed on well over a year ago, I got a nice book from Romney headquarters. That was the last I ever heard from them.” Streeter recently endorsed Gingrich.
Remarking on the recent surge in enthusiasm for Gingrich, Streeter — a longtime observer of New Hampshire politics — notes, “I saw the same thing with the McCain campaign four years ago.”
But he is still predicting a tight race: “Romney has a head start in organization.”
Romney’s opponents are realizing that they must coalesce around one candidate to stop him.
Within state conservative organizations such as the Republican Liberty Caucus and 9/12 groups, Woods says, “a lot of [members] are gravitating to Newt.” The reason, Kulas argues, is that they’re convinced Gingrich “stands the best chance of making damn certain that Obama doesn’t get another term.”
— Brian Bolduc is an editorial associate for National Review.