Gingrich: Primary Eve

by Robert Costa

Nashua, N.H. — With less than 24 hours until voters head to the polls, Newt Gingrich is on a whirlwind tour of the Granite State. At Nashua Country Club this afternoon, I spoke with him as he left a packed Rotary Club reception, and I was struck by his curt response to my questions, and those asked by other reporters. After wrapping his 20-minute “town-hall meeting,” it took him a minute to get to his bus outside. A few handshakes, some smiles, a couple of autographs, and that was it. The lingering, chatty Newt we’ve come to see on the trail was absent.

Gingrich, at least today, is disciplined, focused, and in no mood to opine on the news, including Todd Palin’s endorsement. He brushed off questions about whether the former Alaska governor concurs with her husband. “I’m just thrilled with it,” he told me about Mr. Palin, raising his eyebrows and smiling. And when a regional-television reporter asked him about whether he can “compete in all 50 states,” Gingrich looked back at him, paused, and said, “Sure.” With that, he jumped on his navy-blue bus and disappeared, on to an event at nearby BAE Systems, to be followed by a stop at an American Legion hall, and then another in Manchester.

During his presentation, Gingrich was sharp — and a little playful. At one point, a dapper gentleman asked him a question, and one of the hosts told Gingrich to not worry about the man, who vaguely resembled a certain former Bain executive. That drew a laugh, and Gingrich picked right up on the quip, telling the man that his hair was not “neat enough” to pass as a Mitt Romney lookalike. And the Romney hits kept coming. “Running against Obama, who’s going to have a billion dollars, you better have a really big gap so that when he’s done smearing, attacking, and being negative, people are still clear about what’s at stake,” he said. “I think a Reagan conservative has a dramatically better chance of defeating a left-wing president than a Massachusetts moderate. The closer you get to Obama in your policies, the harder it is to draw a distinction.”

Team Gingrich, for its part, is keeping mum about its expectations. When I asked R. C. Hammond, the campaign spokesman, about his hopes for tomorrow, he was droll. “Do not have any voter fraud,” he said. “Minimal expectations.”