Gingrich adjusts strategy after momentum slows


AS NEWT Gingrich stepped into the Barley House pub opposite the state capitol to meet Republican politicians on Wednesday, a protester held a blow-up of a famous cartoon portraying him in diapers as a “crybaby”.

The protester would not identify herself, but it was a fair bet she supported Texas congressman Ron Paul or former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, whom Mr Gingrich has vowed to take on more aggressively after their withering ad campaigns against him derailed his momentum in Iowa.

Emerging from a fourth-place bruising in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday night, Mr Gingrich and his top aides landed at 3am in New Hampshire. They wasted little time going after Mr Romney and Mr Paul hammer and tongs.

He lampooned Mr Romney for spending millions to win in Iowa but capturing only about the same number of votes as he did in 2008.

“The idea that he’s electable is just silly,” Mr Gingrich told reporters after speaking to about 200 people here.

He and his top aides planned to huddle on Wednesday night to go over a new series of ads to run through the month in the January battlegrounds of New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.

The ads will portray Mr Romney by name as a “Massachusetts moderate” whose record and policies are unacceptable to the conservative party base.

Besides questions that Mr Gingrich has raised recently about taxpayer-paid abortions under “Romneycare”, aides indicated they were weighing ads charging that the Massachusetts healthcare law signed by Mr Romney had driven companies out of state.

They also said Mr Romney had capitulated to liberals by refusing to cut capital gains taxes on individuals earning more than $200,000 annually.

“We think to this point in time Governor Romney has gotten a pass and it’s time to let the light shine his way,” said RC Hammond, Mr Gingrich’s spokesman.

However, as illustrated by the protester’s cartoon – from 1995, when Mr Gingrich, then the House speaker, supposedly forced a federal government shutdown partly out of pique at a poor seat on the presidential aircraft – the strategy carries a danger of reviving an old image of Mr Gingrich as thin-skinned and tantrum-prone.

There is also a risk that voters may judge him to be hypocritical after he vowed so long to run a positive “solutions-oriented” race.

He insisted again on Wednesday that he was not going negative but simply drawing contrasts based on his rivals’ records. It is a distinction that may be lost on some voters.

There is another risk: collateral damage to Mr Gingrich’s lucrative consulting, writing and speaking career, which he developed in his decade as a private citizen. He must take care not to emerge from a bruising campaign with a tarnished brand should he return to the private sector.

The campaign’s funds are depleted after the Iowa fight and it is not clear that even an ad that raises sharp questions about Mr Romney will break through to voters, given how those created by Romney supporters attacking Mr Gingrich saturated the airwaves.

A political action committee supporting Mr Gingrich is also planning an ad campaign, its focus to be determined, but the group appears to be waiting for an influx of money from supporters of Texas governor Rick Perry.

Mr Gingrich’s remarks to the voters here seemed lacklustre, as if he felt the effect of his midnight flight, but when asked if he was discouraged, he denied it.

“In this campaign so far, I’ve been dead once, resuscitated, limping along, the front-runner, drowned in a tidal wave of Romney and Ron Paul negative ads and survived. So I don’t worry about much of anything.”

Mr Gingrich predicted that the race would come down to Mr Romney and a more conservative alternative, and that it would be him once conservative voters picked their tribune.

“I think for the short run they’ll splinter, but each cycle they splinter less. Be patient. It’s all working out pretty well.”

Mr Paul’s surge, he said, was not a threat. “He’s not going to be the nominee,” he said flatly. Mr Gingrich promised to engage Mr Paul head on in the next debate on Saturday over his hands-off views about Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon. – (New York Times service)