By Adam Reilly
Dec. 5, 2011
MANCHESTER, N.H. — For the past year, the race for the Republican presidential nomination has followed a predictable pattern. A Mitt Romney rival surges in the polls, can’t stand the spotlight and fades into obscurity — replaced by another rival who does exactly the same thing.
But the latest anti-Romney, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, seems to have a bit more staying power. And he’s raising new doubts about the inevitability of Romney landing the nomination — even in the former Mass. governor’s stronghold of New Hampshire.
Hit the ground running
Gingrich’s New Hampshire headquarters looks unlived in. That’s because it is. In contrast to Romney, who opened his New Hampshire headquarters in May, Gingrich’s, on Elm Street in Manchester, N.H., has been open for less than a month.
Andrew Hemingway, Gingrich’s New Hampshire campaign director, freely admitted that his candidate got a late start.
“Most of the other campaigns have been here for probably over a year, and they’re established. They’ve got everything moving,” Hemingway said.
Still, Gingrich has been chipping away at Romney’s once-vast lead in the Granite State. A recent poll by Rasmussen Reports put Romney’s cushion at just 10 points.
Hemingway predicted that down the home stretch, the Gingrich campaign’s lack of structure will provide a jolt of grassroots energy.
“It’s forcing us to run a campaign that’s completely decentralized, completely based on people willing to come on board who are willing who to help us, who are willing to push it,” he said. “Our organization literally depends on our volunteers.”
"He has great ideas"
In other words, it depends on people like Jonathan and Jean White of Amherst, N.H. After picking up some Newt 2012 yard signs, the Whites explained why they think Gingrich is the best of the GOP bunch.
“He balanced the budget for four years in a row while he was speaker of the House,” said John White. “He’s a tremendous intellect. He has great ideas.”
“I’m a Catholic and I think he’s living out his faith,” Jean White added. “That’s part of who he is and that’s part of what’s guiding him.”
For his part, Romney wants voters to see Gingrich and think “Washington insider.” During a recent interview on WTPL-FM, “New Hampshire Today” host Jack Heath asked Romney to describe the main differences between him and Gingrich.
“If the people of America are looking for folks that have a background in Washington,” Romney said, “who’ve spent a lifetime in Washington, who’ve worked in government affairs or lobbying — why, there are a lot of people to choose from.”
But with his poll numbers dropping, Romney may have to be more aggressive, especially since Gingrich has some traits that New Hampshire voters tend to prize.
“He’s less packaged, he’s not perfect, he’s a little disheveled,” Heath said of Gingrich. “He’s got that college professor look, versus Mitt Romney, who looks like he’s gotten the Academy Award role to play the president if Michael Douglas isn’t available.”
Heath agreed with Hemingway that Gingrich’s late start in New Hampshire won’t hurt him.
“[Gingrich] hasn’t lost anything from it,” Heath said. “He’s doing well and if he spends more time here and presses the flesh, goes to coffee shops, he’s going to have the national media horde and the local regional media. So I think he got lucky.”
If Newt, then what?
As of Dec. 2, Heath predicted that Romney would win New Hampshire by just three to five percentage points — an outcome that could reinforce the perception that Romney is fading and Gingrich surging. Heath thought there was a legitimate chance that Gingrich would win New Hampshire outright.
Since losing New Hampshire could doom Romney’s presidential hopes, his campaign will do everything possible to keep it from happening. But Hemingway claimed the passion was on Gingrich’s side.
“It’s a woman from Pennsylvania who emails me or writes a handwritten letter and says, ‘Hey, I’m disabled, I can’t do much, but I just rented a hotel room across the street and I’m going to be living in New Hampshire for five weeks because I want to be involved in the Newt Gingrich campaign,’” Hemingway said, smiling broadly.
In the end, that energy may not be enough to defeat Romney. But it’s already enough to make him sweat.
MORE GREATER BOSTON