Iowa politicos say Gingrich is due for a poll surge

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Thursday, November 10, 2011 at 11:55 am | More from The Iowa Independent

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GOP presidential candidate and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s rise in the polls may have more to do with the process of elimination than anything else, political observers in the Hawkeye State say.

Republican voters seem to be giving Gingrich (R-Ga.) a second look after it appeared his campaign may fall apart before it got rolling. Much of his staff quit early on in the campaign, questioning his strategy in early states in the nomination process, including Iowa.

Steffen Schmidt

Iowa State University politics professor Steffen Schmidt said early in the campaign he didn’t think Gingrich had much of a chance in Iowa or nationally.

“They did say he was going to be the comeback kid, but I didn’t really buy into that before we saw the others underperformed so badly,” Schmidt said. “So maybe Newt Gingrich will be the flavor of the month for now.”

That flavor of the month phenomenon may be the only constant in what has been a roller-coaster ride for the GOP presidential nomination. Schmidt said Gingrich has risen because of the decline of other candidates: U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) got off message, Texas Gov. Rick Perry did well in debates and businessman Herman Cain has been hit with a sexual harassment scandal, he said.

“The thing you never know is how bad the others are going to do. The reason Newt Gingrich, his place in the sun has risen, is because his competitors have been so terribly bad in many different ways,” Schmidt said. “That means there aren’t many others left that have a chance, and Newt Gingrich has a pretty good chance of doing well in the caucuses.”

Dennis Goldford

Drake University politics professor Dennis Goldford agreed that “by process of elimination it’s [Gingrich's] turn,” and said if he works to get organized in Iowa he could do better than expected in the caucuses.

“That ultimately comes down to who actually shows up and participates,” Goldford said. “Most observers would be surprised if he really did well in the caucuses. It would be astounding if he were to win them, that would be an upset.”

University of Iowa politics professor Tim Hagle believes Gingrich has a decent chance of finishing well in the Jan. 3 Iowa Caucuses, if not winning the first major presidential contest.

“Given the shortened caucus season, given that we’re going to have the caucuses on the third of January, it could be he’s hitting it just right and he’d be the one that benefits if Cain fades,” Hagle said.

Tim Hagle

But Gingrich’s past could come back to bite him, the three agreed. Goldford noted Gingrich’s history of affairs with staffers, his multiple divorces and his failure to expand on a Republican majority in Congress he helped build in the ’90′s.

“He carries a lot of baggage, but when you’re looking desperately for someone other than Mitt Romney you start looking through the possibilities,” he said.

Hagle agreed Gingrich has baggage, but said people may be willing to look past that because of his solid debate performances and ability to talk about the issues with knowledge and authority. But he also warned Gingrich’s past could become an issue if he continues to rise in the polls and he comes under increased scrutiny.

“The short answer to this is that it must be his turn,” Hagle said. “It’s an odd thing. If you’ve been following this of course you know we’ve seen this candidates that see a surge in the poll and people take a close look at them and fade back down.”

And Schmidt said the other GOP candidates may be more inclined to discuss Gingrich’s checkered past now that he’s gaining ground in the race for the nomination.

“You know he’ll have a lot of trouble because his adversaries really aren’t going to let him walk away with it,” he said. “Some things in his personal life that people have been staying away from will come up.”

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