Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign got off to a self-admittedly “bad start,” which is more than a bit of an understatement. His candidacy has been dismissed since then — but two recent polls show improvement. He now plans to make a splash with his “21st Century Contract with America.”
Gingrich has consistently gotten some of the biggest applause lines in the presidential debates, and wisely positioned himself to gain by staying out of the combat as the others attacked each other. A recent CNN poll, taken after the the last debate, shows Gingrich in a solid third place at 10 percent with Herman Cain, Sarah Palin, and Ron Paul at 7 percent. (This was taken before Herman Cain’s rise in the polls following his straw poll win in Florida.) Michele Bachmann’s support collapsed to only 4 percent.
Former President Bill Clinton was asked by Newsmax to assess the field and if he thought it was down to a contest between Romney and Perry. The one candidate Clinton mentioned who could shake up the race was Gingrich. He also said: “Politics is not so static that it will be these two guys fighting it out all the way to the end, with nothing unpredictable happening.”
Gingrich’s new Contract, which he states is “10 times deeper and more comprehensive” than the 1994 proposal, may be what moves Gingrich to the top of the second-tier pack.
Gingrich’s website says that the Georgia primary is the “launch pad to victory,” his must-win state. He says he hopes to be in the top three in Iowa, will be in the top three in New Hampshire, and will win South Carolina and Florida. His website also says that “victory is vital” in South Carolina and Nevada, but that Georgia is his make-or-break state.
A recent poll out of Georgia shows Rick Perry in the lead at 24 percent, Herman Cain in second at 15 percent, Gingrich in third at 9 percent, and Bachmann with 8 percent. Cain won the state’s straw poll while Gingrich came in fourth, but 20 percent were undecided. Gingrich’s closest rivals are Bachmann and Cain, the former of which may be drop out if she loses Iowa.
Cain’s rise therefore comes at Gingrich’s expense. Cain is now seen as viable, giving him an edge over Gingrich and the other second- and third-tier candidates. Expect a big jump in the polls — but this jump can quickly disappear as he comes under the spotlight. Cain is extremely well-liked, but voters will now start asking themselves if he has the experience and substance to be president.
Standing next to Gingrich and other candidates, he could very well start looking more like an excellent vice presidential nominee instead of a commander in chief. The founder of Tea Party Nation endorsed Gingrich this month, making this very point: “Newt is electable. If you have seen the GOP debates, Gingrich has been the best debater … he looks presidential.” He also called him a “big idea man” with “the vision to fundamentally change the federal government.”
Gingrich may also gain ground because of his unplanned statement to the The United West, which asked him if he’d investigate Muslim Brotherhood fronts in the U.S. like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America, and the North American Islamic Trust. Gingrich answered: “Yes, absolutely!” Herman Cain, on the other hand, went to a top Muslim Brotherhood mosque when he sought to make up for his comments about communities banning mosques. Since then, Cain has told The United West that he’d prosecute the Brotherhood fronts and designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. National security is not a major issue this campaign, but winning the anti-Islamist vote may still result in a noticeable uptick in support.
Gingrich’s climb to third place in the polls and strong debate performances don’t make him a first-tier candidate, but for the first time, victory at least seems possible. He could linger in the second tier and prosper as others drop out. Perry’s support will fall as he’s attacked on all sides, and if it drops far enough, attention will turn back to Romney. Bachmann will probably drop out after Iowa if she loses, as will Rick Santorum. After the New Hampshire primary, Jon Huntsman and Gary Johnson will probably exit. These last three candidates have very little support, but they still take up time on stage at the debates, and that is where Gingrich shines and has an opportunity to make his case without buying expensive advertising.
This doesn’t mean that it is likely Gingrich will win, or that there aren’t serious obstacles. Romney or Perry could have unstoppable momentum because of victories in the pre-Georgia contests. Gingrich also has to convince the media and Republicans, including less attentive voters that are unaware of his strengthening position in the polls, that his candidacy is viable. People simply don’t want to volunteer for or donate to a campaign that has little hope of succeeding. And then there are the questions about his electability. Debate performances can stir confidence that he can take on Obama, but it will be hard for voters to get past the earlier implosion of his campaign. Republicans can’t afford to have that happen with their nominee.
As those competing for the right-of-Romney vote make bringing Perry down their first order of business, one of the second-tier candidates could break through. And of those candidates, Gingrich is the one on a positive trajectory. Don’t count him out.
Also read Victor Davis Hanson: “The Coming Post-Obama Renaissance“