MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Newt Gingrich's consulting work for Freddie Mac isn't the only potential obstacle in his path. He also faces a daunting challenge in the early voting state of New Hampshire.
Gingrich is just getting his campaign operation underway there, as we hear from New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers.
JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: Newt Gingrich predicted victory when he opened his state campaign headquarters in Manchester last week. But Gingrich also told supporters winning wouldn't be easy.
NEWT GINGRICH: The fact is I'm clearly the underdog in New Hampshire. We're going to be coming from behind. But we have a chance to really change history right here. Not in South Carolina, not in Florida, not in Nevada - right here.
ROGERS: The fact that Gingrich is here at all is remarkable. His early campaign seemed one long misstep: conservatives lit into him when he called the Paul Ryan budget plan right-wing social engineering. Gingrich was pilloried in the media for holding a six-figure line of credit with the high-end jeweler Tiffany. His top national staff resigned in June, after Gingrich left the campaign trail to cruise the Greek isles. And as recently as last month, his campaign was over a million dollars in the red.
But after some strong debates and blunders by rivals, Gingrich is now the latest alternative to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
WINK VAN NOWE: Newt Gingrich is the best. He's knowledgeable, he's been there, he's effective. We need the best.
ROGERS: Wink Van Nowe is a GOP activist with Tea Party ties. She isn't alone in citing Gingrich's experience in Washington as a plus. That speaks to the Gingrich resume, which includes 20 years in Congress. But it's also an unexpected twist in an election where gaffes by anti-Washington candidates like Texas Governor Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain have left many conservatives worried.
John Preve is a tax accountant from Concord.
JOHN PREVE: You just can't have those kind of bloops in a big debate and go against President Obama, who's a great orator.
ROGERS: But getting there will be a steep climb. Andrew Hemingway, Gingrich's state campaign director, says the local math is tough.
ANDREW HEMINGWAY: I was hired on October 21st, right? When I rolled in, we had about 18,000 votes we think probably secured. We need another 69 to 70,000 votes, we think, to win the primary. So I've got find a thousand voters every day.
ROGERS: Gingrich has just five staffers on the ground here. All are recent hires. The campaign says it's set up three offices, with two more in the works. Hemingway also says Team Gingrich will rely heavily on a social media site called Newt Hampshire.
HEMINGWAY: I can't hire enough staff to go and to run this the old way. I mean, there's no way we can do enough. So the only way to do it is to leverage the technology we have and basically create a new model.
ROGERS: But Mike Dennehy, who helped pilot John McCain to New Hampshire primary wins in 2000 and 2008, says the old model could also work for Gingrich, particularly in a year when campaigns don't have big staffs on the ground here and most top candidates have done less retail campaigning.
MIKE DENNEHY: Newt Gingrich is tailor-made for the New Hampshire town hall meeting style-campaign. So if he were to come here to New Hampshire, have town hall meetings three or four a day for eight or nine days, I think he could make huge impact.
ROGERS: Dennehy adds, though, that at this point, the contest locally is for second place, behind statewide frontrunner Mitt Romney. Dennehy says candidates can claim success as long as they keep Romney's margin to 15 points.
DENNEHY: Then they'll head into South Carolina with a little bit of momentum, not huge, as if it were, you know, under 10 percent. And if they're within striking distance of Mitt Romney , then it throws the entire race on its head.
ROGERS: Newt Gingrich is expected to return to New Hampshire next week. He's promised supporters he'll be here often. The former House speaker will probably need to put in time locally to prove his theory of this election.
GINGRICH: I believe this race will come down to two people.
ROGERS: If Gingrich is right, the next couple of months will reveal whether he's one of those people.
For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, New Hampshire.