Newt’s Brother

by Robert Costa

Urbandale, Iowa — Randy McPherson is Newt Gingrich’s half-brother, and from the moment you meet him, you can tell. They share a father — the late Newton S. McPherson — and in their faces, the familial link is clear, from the jut of their chins to the way each gentleman squints.

But Randy, eleven years Newt’s junior, stands shoulders above his brother. With his towering frame and bushy mustache, he has the look of a veteran law-enforcement official, which he is. And when he’s not sipping Dasani water in a crowded, poster-covered conference room, he lives in Harrisburg, Pa., where he works as a criminal investigator.

Late Sunday, we met at Gingrich’s Iowa headquarters, where McPherson was sitting in the back, hunched over a plastic table, a black cell phone pressed against his ear. After he finished a round of calls, we talked about the former speaker. He told me that he drove 14 hours to get here. He didn’t ask to fly, or to have the campaign pay his way. “I wanted to save them money,” he explains, and like most things brother-related, he prefers to be low key, mostly unnoticed.

One of the odd things about being Gingrich’s sibling but not sharing a surname, he says, is hearing what people really think of his famous brother, without any of the kiss-up praise usually shared with the kin of presidential contenders. McPherson’s favorite story is about the time he went to a bar and sat next to a man from Georgia. McPherson told him that he knew someone from there, a guy named Newt Gingrich. The man soon went into a rant about Gingrich. At the end of the spiel, McPherson casually remarked, “You know, he’s my brother.” The man eyed him, saw the resemblance — and McPherson’s stature — and promptly said to the bartender, “Check, please.”

Both Randy and Newt are the products of a broken marriage. Their father divorced Gingrich’s mother, Kit, days after Gingrich was born. Three years later, Kit married Robert Gingrich, an Army officer. Young Newt did not know about his biological father until he was a teenager. But after becoming familiar with his roots and the rest of the McPherson clan, he has been a warm, constant presence, his brother tells me. Even though Randy has little interest in politics, and prefers to talk about Pennsylvania high-school basketball, he felt compelled to come to Iowa.

“He works tirelessly,” McPherson says, and that work ethic has inspired him. “The mental part of this is tough, and he’s on top of his game, day after day after day.”

But like a good athlete, “he gets his cat naps, he gets his power naps when he can,” McPherson chuckles. “We had dinner last night, and he was fine. He retired early, rested up, and hit the trail early today. He’s managing his time as best as he can, squeezing in as many events as possible.”

He also respects Gingrich for keeping his cool as attacks increase. “He is pretty good at dealing with that kind of thing,” McPherson says. “I find myself having to turn the television off.”

McPherson credits Gingrich’s wife, Callista, for playing a major role in keeping his brother’s spirits high. A decade ago, he served as best man at Newt and Callista’s wedding and since then McPherson has seen his brother change for the better. “Being a grandfather, getting older, he’s grown a lot, he’s more mature,” he says. “He’s much calmer, more insightful. But believe me, he still goes a 100 miles per hour.”

This week, Gingrich’s brother is working at a similar pace, staying late at an office park, making calls and in his own way, hoping for the best. “He’s always been there for the family,” he tells me, glancing at a list of phone numbers. “I’m here for him.”