Washington Matters


Can Gingrich Derail Romney?

Kenneth R. Bazinet

He’ll make it interesting, but GOP voters will find Romney the better bet to beat President Obama.



It's hard to ignore Newt Gingrich’s return from the dead as a viable Republican presidential candidate, but it is easy to take his second act with a grain of salt.

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Labeled an also-ran presidential wannabe at the outset of the election season, Gingrich has emerged as the latest flavor-of-the-month in the GOP’s White House sweepstakes.

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But is Mitt Romney’s camp nervous? Not so much, though it is retooling its strategy to target a candidate it had long ago written off as a legitimate threat.

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At best, the Gingrich surge defines the race as a two-man contest between the former House speaker and perennial top-tier candidate Romney. It will not lead to Romney’s demise.

Still, Gingrich’s rising poll numbers and a recent endorsement from the conservative New Hampshire Union Leader have helped him raise $4 million since Oct. 1, compared with a dismal $800,000 cash haul in the third quarter. It’s enough money to pay off an estimated $1 million in campaign debt, open new offices in New Hampshire and South Carolina, and hire some well-respected new strategists.

Yet even with donor checks coming in at an accelerated rate, he doesn't have enough time to build a field organization necessary to win in the early voting states.

Gingrich recently hired Jeff Chidester, the former New Hampshire state director for Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-MN) campaign. Chidester is a tea party activist with a local right-wing radio show in the Granite State.

In Iowa, über-operative Craig Schoenfeld as well as Katie Koberg, a big antitax activist, rejoined the Gingrich campaign after quitting in June during an exodus of staffers who were convinced that the ex-speaker’s bid for the White House was doomed.

Schoenfeld is a big rehire, since he headed the super PAC Americans for Rick Perry after leaving the Gingrich campaign.

Gingrich is already scrounging for votes among the tanking conservatives in the field. With businessman Herman Cain’s campaign on life support over allegations of a long-term affair and multiple accusations that he engaged in sexual harassment, Gingrich is treating the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza with respect in hopes of landing Cain's supporters when he drops out of the race.

With the biggest get-out-the-vote operation in New Hampshire, Romney has a 27-point lead over Gingrich in a recent highly regarded poll in the state.

It won’t be much easier for Gingrich to cut into the conservative vote in Iowa, either. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) has built a formidable field operation in Iowa, while Michele Bachmann also has a strong ground game that will be needed to pull voters to the Jan. 3 caucuses.

Unless Gingrich is obliterated in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, which would question his electability and credibility, he has a real chance to pull out a win over Romney in the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21. It is the third state in the GOP nominating process and is dominated by conservative Republicans who find Gingrich more to their ideological liking.

Romney will likely lower expectations for his performance in South Carolina, setting the stage for what could be a decisive showdown in the Florida primary on Jan. 31.

The former Massachusetts governor also hopes to demonstrate his own fundraising prowess. He raised $3.6 million through Sept. 30. He is likely to exceed that take this quarter.

Do not be surprised if Romney drops a bombshell when he reports his most recent campaign contributions, rolling out a major fourth-quarter buck-raking haul.

Romney will spend the coming weeks focusing on attacking Obama, while Gingrich will be forced to face questions about his past indiscretions and controversial comments, instead of talking about jobs and the economy.

Romney’s campaign continues to argue that he is the candidate most likely to defeat President Obama. Polls support Romney’s case that he is the most electable candidate in the GOP field.



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