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Nancy Smith

Can Newt Gingrich's Pugilistic Politics Win Florida?

January 22, 2012 - 6:00pm

Newt Gingrich's verbal pyrotechnics won the day in South Carolina, but can the resurgent former speaker of the House overcome Mitt Romney's big lead in Florida and repeat the miracle here?

Is there even time?

I hope not, but that's a matter for later.

Gingrich thinks there's time aplenty. The GOP Presidential Primary in the Sunshine State may be only eight days away, but Gingrich's feet barely hit the floor after Saturday night's South Carolina results were final, when he was urging his supporters on Twitter, Help me deliver the knockout punch in Florida.

And he was all over television Sunday morning, too, reminding us that during the last week of November he scored a yawning lead in Florida polls. He said his allies believe he can get that edge back, no problem, after this week's two-candidate debates, Monday night in Tampa and Thursday night in Jacksonville.

He does most certainly have an action plan, if you want to call it one.

In an interview with MSNBC Sunday morning, Gingrich's longtime spokesman Rick Tyler, who now helps head the candidate's super-PAC Winning Our Future, laid out a plan for the week ahead: tie Romney to once-beloved Charlie Crist, who lost both his popularity as governor within the GOP and his chances of serving in the Senate when he chose to be the moderate alternative to tea party Senate candidate Marco Rubio.

"There's been a winnowing out of the conservative contenders," said Tyler. "I think Newt is now the only one left standing. So, if 75 percent of the party doesn't want Mitt and the Republican Party is acting like nominating Mitt is like getting a wildcat into a trash can, then I think the job is simple. We simply align Newt Gingrich with the 75 percent who don't want Mitt. I think here in Florida, all we have to do is remind people that Mitt Romney is Charlie Crist. If you voted for Charlie Crist, then you should vote for Mitt. If you didn't vote for Charlie Crist, then you should vote for Newt."

Gingrich has an uphill climb, and here's why:


Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina -- all are dinkier states than Florida in every way, but especially in terms of marketing a message that connects to the voters. In the Sunshine State he is looking at 10 major media markets, which will dilute the impact of retail campaigning.

Bottom line: It's going to cost Gingrich a pretty penny to compete in Florida. Romney has spent well over $6 million on paid media here already and the former speaker is yet to get a single ad up and airing. What he needs to do is infuse his campaign with millions of dollars of his own money -- and hope casino king Sheldon Adelson makes good on his promise to kick in $5 million to the Winning Our Future super-PAC.

You'll hear it said, money isn't everything. After all, Romney outspent Gingrich bigtime in South Carolina and has little to show for it. As Barack Obama adviser David Axelrod tweeted after South Carolina, "If you & SuperPac spend $4.7m, and get zero delegates, how much did you spend per delegate?"

Trouble is, running a presidential primary campaign on the cheap works only so long and only so well. Going into the last week in Florida, Gingrich is woefully behind in the cash department.


Gingrich finally may be ready to make his move, but in Florida 185,400 absentee ballots have already been cast. Add to that another 11,836 early votes at open precincts. Romney was leading in all polls when early voting opened.

Here's what Bill Burton of the Democratic super-PAC Priorities USA Action emailed on Saturday: "Given the fact that hundreds of thousands of absentee ballots have already been collected by the Romney campaign, it is mathematically improbable that Gingrich could win (Florida)."

Gingrich has former Attorney General Bill McCollum and Marco Rubio campaign manager Jose Mallea behind him in the Sunshine State. Romney, meanwhile, has sewn up most of Florida's top business leaders and the Republican leadership in Tallahassee, including Senate President Mike Haridopolos, state Sen. John Thrasher and virtually all of the Jacksonville politicos; also, Congressmen Connie Mack, Ander Crenshaw, Tom Rooney and Sandy Adams.

Observes Alexandra Fitzpatrick, a Washington, D.C.-based GOP consultant who closely follows Florida elections, "You have literally dozens of state candidates on the Republican ticket looking for a boost up, and they care deeply who is at the top of the national ticket. The indication we're getting is that they believe Romney can protect their votes while Gingrich will drag them down.

"Gingrich is carrying too much baggage, it's that simple."

I said the same thing in a Dec. 2 column, "No, No, Not Newt," though I was focusing only on his pattern of serial adultery -- imagining how it will play among an electorate to whom decency and marital fidelity matter.

Let's not go there

There are actually so many more reasons to deny the former speaker a shot at the White House.

Gingrich has an ego the size of his home state of Georgia. He is hopelessly in love with his own voice, even when it's sputtering nonsense.

Here's how he explained why it took him a while to catch on with voters: "Because I am much like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, I'm such an unconventional political figure that you really need to design a unique campaign that fits the way I operate and what I'm trying to do."

Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune, writing a column called "The Case Against Newt Gingrich" in the Nov. 17, 2011, edition of Reason magazine, had this and more to say about the man who would win the GOP primary in South Carolina: "He says he is not convinced that global warming is taking place. But he once urged action to combat it -- in a TV spot with Nancy Pelosi.

"He rejects the individual mandate in Obama's health-care plan, even though he previously endorsed the idea. He denounces overspending after supporting Medicare prescription drug coverage, a huge new entitlement.

"Most stunning was his reversal on Libya. In March, he faulted Obama for not intervening against Moammar Gadhafi. A couple of weeks later, after Obama did just that, Gingrich announced, 'I would not have intervened.'"

Read the whole column. It's scary but worth your time.

In December 2011, the respected conservative journal National Review issued a stinging critique of Gingrich, saying his character flaws make him unfit to be president. It asked Republicans to reject a hasty marriage to the front-running candidate.

According to the journal, His character flaws his impulsiveness, his grandiosity, his weakness for half-baked (and not especially conservative) ideas made him a poor speaker of the House. Again and again he combined incendiary rhetoric with irresolute action, bringing Republicans all the political costs of a hardline position without actually taking one. Again and again he put his own interests above those of the causes he championed in public.

If Gingrich is too late to win Florida's more sophisticated GOP electorate, if Romney has built up too great a lead for the former House speaker from Georgia to overcome, the fireworks you hear and see lighting up the night sky will be mine.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at (850) 727-0859.

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