Newt Gingrich Ups His Campaign Schedule In Iowa

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is stepping up his campaign schedule in Iowa ahead of next month's first-in-the-nation caucuses. He's gotten some negative publicity since his poll numbers started rising. But with many voters still undecided, large crowds are showing up to give Gingrich a listen.

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This week, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich confidently declared that he will be his party's nominee. But in Iowa, where the first votes will be cast next month, the Gingrich campaign is starting over after a mass exodus of staff this past summer. And some people wonder if Gingrich can pull off a victory against better organized campaigns.

Iowa Public Radio's Joyce Russell reports.

JOYCE RUSSELL, BYLINE: Iowa's senior campaign adviser Katie Koberg and other staffers quit the Gingrich campaign in June. Now she's back on the job.

KATIE KOBERG: The office furniture has been delivered, the Internet is on, and volunteers are ready to start working.

RUSSELL: But that suburban Des Moines office, the only one in the state, just opened today, even though the so-called ground game in the caucus race is now on. Campaigns are feverishly lining up precinct captains to get people out to the caucuses for a winter's evening of politicking on January 3rd.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hi, are you folks here for the Strong America event?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yup.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good deal. Well, if you'd also like to support Newt, we'd love to have you sign up, and we can send you our email updates and...

RUSSELL: Even with their embryonic organization, the Gingrich camp is stepping up campaign appearances like this one in Council Bluffs. They're running into voters who are trying to make sense of the greater scrutiny that has inevitably accompanied Gingrich's rise in the polls. Take his call for a more humane immigration policy, which some conservatives call amnesty.

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I got in a little bit controversy the other day.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GINGRICH: But it's a good controversy. It's how we talk to ourselves as a people.

RUSSELL: That's Gingrich giving a little scholarly lecture on the immigration matter. Voters are also taking note of Gingrich's profits from consulting for mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

That doesn't bother computer programmer Ron Tekippe.

RON TEKIPPE: He has a right to make money and earn a living. I don't have an issue with that. The immigration one, though, I'm a little concerned.

RUSSELL: Tekippe is leaning toward voting for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, but hasn't ruled Gingrich out.

Four years ago, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses, even though his campaign was also a little ragtag. But that year, evangelicals, a critical voting bloc, lined up behind Huckabee. Southside Des Moines Pastor Mike Demastus says Newt is no Huck, what with his infidelities and three marriages.

PASTOR MIKE DEMASTUS: I believe that, you know, even though the candidates keep saying the number one issue is the economy, the number one thing is the economy, it's not the economy, stupid, anymore. For me, it's morality, stupid.

RUSSELL: And then there's Gingrich's tendency toward off-the-cuff remarks, which even his friends say could hurt his chances in Iowa. Former Iowa Congressman Greg Ganske served in the U.S. House with the former speaker and is now his Iowa co-chair.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREG GANSKE: There have been a few times where I kind of wished that Newt had used a little different language in making a point. I think he would probably agree with that.

RUSSELL: Ganske says the campaign is growing more disciplined. But that wasn't clear in Des Moines this week when Gingrich elaborated on his claim that child labor laws are stupid.

GINGRICH: Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works, so they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of I do this and you give me cash unless it's illegal.

RUSSELL: But Gingrich then declined to give details on his suggestion that schools hire young students in place of janitors. Meanwhile, Gingrich calls his campaign's turnaround from long shot to top tier disorienting.

GINGRICH: This is such a rapid change that we're having to rethink our own internal operations right now and where we are.

RUSSELL: That includes retooling his speeches, so he sounds more like the nominee, not just a candidate for the nomination.

For NPR News, I'm Joyce Russell in Des Moines.

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