Sioux City, Iowa
If Newt Gingrich is steaming about the flurry of attacks that have impeded his momentum and caused his poll numbers to sag, he’s not letting the frustration show. On the third day of his 22-stop bus tour, Gingrich was loose and boisterous on Thursday morning at a trio of campaign events in Sioux City, the hub of one of the state’s most conservative regions. “The strategy of focusing on jobs and economic growth, staying positive, being relentless in answering questions at every meeting and town hall meetings is working,” he told reporters inside his recently opened campaign headquarters in a tiny storefront here, where color-coded county maps, to-do lists and basic agenda items like disseminating yard signs and lining up caucus-night speechmakers adorned otherwise bare walls. “We’re doing just fine.”
Gingrich said that despite his tumble in the polls, he’s still in position to compete in the state. “It’s all going to be turmoil until Tuesday night,” he said, asserting that perhaps a third of caucus-goers haven’t settled on a candidate. “I’m very satisfied with where we are. I jumped into being the front-runner statistically long before we thought we would. We’re catching up with ourselves. We then had $6 million to $8 million worth of negative advertising. I’ll let you determine how well other candidates would have done with that barrage. And we’re still standing. We’re going to talk about big ideas.”
Despite devoting an outsize chunk of his stump speech to the perils of negative advertising, Gingrich spent more time Thursday drawing a contrast with his opponents, pointing to his experience navigating the shoals of Capitol Hill as an edge he holds on his rivals. “My basic message for the next six days is simple: if you want jobs and economic growth, I know how to do it. I’ve done it twice before,” he said, touting his role in crafting supply-side economic theory as a junior congressman and his acrimonious yet productive partnership with Bill Clinton. “This is no time to send an amateur to Washington.”
As he hopscotched Sioux City, the former House Speaker’s cheery mien belied his slide in the polls. During the first stop of the day, at a coffee shop hawking a hawking a specialty sandwich dubbed “The Newt” (ham and American cheese on white bread; Gingrich noted he’d have preferred whole wheat or rye, but was pleased about the patriotic cheese selection), Gingrich defused a questioner indignant about his “politicization” of judicial activism and joked that the jumbled scrum of reporters resembled a “herd of wildebeest.” At a midday speech at a local convention center, he chuckled when a supporter suggested he lacked the passion to be President. “I’m not sure what passion you want me to exhibit,” he said. But the question was telling. In the final sprint to the caucus, Gingrich has shelved the fiery rhetoric that made him one of the GOP’s premier practitioners of partisan combat.
Even if he’s unable to stem his slide in Iowa before the Jan. 3 caucuses, Gingrich said he’s poised to soldier on, suggesting the shopworn adage that tickets out of Iowa exist only for the top three finishers was outdated. Whether or not he’s shining it, he has to hope that’s the truth. After surging to the front of the field less than a month ago, Gingrich sagged to fourth place in a new CNN/TIME/ORC poll released Wednesday. Fourth place would be a dismal showing after soaring poll numbers prompted him to proclaim at the beginning of December that he was “going to be the nominee.” But in Sioux City, he suggested it would be a sufficient showing to carry his happy-warrior campaign onward to the southern states where his poll numbers remain healthy.
“It depends what happens, it depends what the margins are,” Gingrich said. “But yeah, there are more than three tickets out of Iowa. Considering I’m 20 points ahead in some states, it would be fairly foolish of me not to stay in the race. It is a long way to picking a nominee.”