Watch for Gingrich to come out swinging tonight

In July, it was Michele Bachmann; in September, Rick Perry, and in October, Herman Cain. Now Newt Gingrich seems poised to be the Republican presidential flavor of the month – or perhaps even a lasting contender.

While former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has held relatively steady in the polls in recent months, the Minnesota congresswoman, Texas governor and former Godfather Pizza CEO have taken their turns near the top. Cain remains there still, but there’s no question the recent allegations of sexual harassment are taking their toll; his days at the top of the roller coaster seem numbered, and Bachmann and Perry are waving a welcome to him from the bottom.

Now the most recent polls show a resurgence for Gingrich, the former House Speaker from Georgia who shot himself in the foot right out of the campaign gate in May by criticizing Republicans’ beloved Ryan budget plan and having a profligate jewelry spending habit that put him firmly among the vaunted 1 percent.

His campaign has been heavily touting (and tweeting) his debate performances, so now that he seems to have some momentum, look for him to come out very aggressively in tonight’s CNBC faceoff in Michigan.

Gingrich might have an advantage lacked by other Republicans who’ve nipped at Romney’s heels before falling away – he’s been on the national public stage a lot longer. Bachmann was busy founding a charter school but had never sought public office; Perry was Texas’ Agriculture Commissioner, and had only become a Republican a few years earlier; and Cain was a Federal Reserve Bank official in Kansas City in 1993-94 when House Minority Whip Gingrich was coauthoring the GOP “Contract with America” that led to the 1994 Republican Revolution and catapulted him into the Speaker’s office.

That means the press has had more time to investigate him and voters have had more time to know him, leaving less chance of uncovering some sort of new surprise. Of course, that also means everyone knows his dirty laundry – the only House Speaker ever disciplined for ethics violations (and by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote), with two marriages ended by affairs, one even as he pilloried President Clinton for his extramarital fling. But reviving such criticisms doesn’t pack the same political punch as exposing them for the first time, so Gingrich may whether this storm better.

“Candidates often look really good until they’re put under the microscope, and Gingrich has – to put it mildly – a colorful past,” San Jose State University Political Science Professor Larry Gerston said today. “Once a discussion of his past is renewed, and it will be as it would be with any candiate’s history, that’s when we’ll have an answer as to what Californians care about.”

“Californians tend not to get as hung up on these kinds of moral issues as we see in other places,” Gerston continued. “It may not be much, it may be yesterday’s news many times removed. On the other hand, it could be that people say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember him’ and the past comes flooding back.”

The key question could be “has he crept up because he’s become more desirable or has he crept up because others are imploding?,” Gerston said. If Gingrich has earned his bump in the polls through his debate performances and the way he’s running his campaign, “then we may see somebody who has renewed staying power. If he’s crept up because it’s ‘anybody but Mitt’ and we’re down to the dregs, it could be another story. The jury is out right now.”

Counting Gingrich out would be a mistake, he added. “He’s smart, the guy is smart and he’s thoughtful and he doesn’t put his foot in his mouth. His actions are another story, but he doesn’t put his foot in his mouth when he’s talking about an issue.” In fact, Gerston said, the only other candidate who consistently has shown that sort of experience and grasp of the issues is Romney.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • raul

    Gingrich is really the best candidate the Republicns have, he has a lot of ideas – substinative ideas – on how to improve economy. Additionally, he has the experience – as a former Speaker of the House – to get things done in DC. He knows Congress, he knows how to navigate legislation through Congress. While I think he is best candidate Republicans have in the race, he is doing poorly in the polls because he’s not a “fresh face” and because he’s dorky looking. I think it’s a little unfair really. I’m a Democrat, I won’t be voting for Gingrich, but I do believe he’s thoughful and well worth listening too, he’s the kind of substinative person you want in leadership position.

  • John W

    Re: #1

    I’m a Democrat too and would not vote for Gingrich. But I agree he is an idea machine and often interesting to listen to. After Rick Perry’s disastrous performance in tonight’s CNBC debate, Gingrich could be the next Romney spoiler, especially if Herman Cain’s recent problems don’t settle down.

  • For Liberty

    Re: #1 & #2

    Under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, there will be no role back of the enormous growth of the federal government. To learn more about the REAL Newt Gingrich, please see the following link to short video presentation about him:


  • Ralph Hoffmann

    The only Republican I will vote for is Ron Paul, who was again minimialized.

  • Ralph Hoffmann

    CENSORSHIP: Ron Paul – 90 seconds. Other 7 Candidates – 3510 seconds. Why? Paul said Congress declares wars, not Presidents; Waterboarding torture violates laws; Presidents have no right to order unconvicted US Citizens killed.

  • John W

    Re: #5

    In fairness, they can’t possibly give equal question time when you have that many candidates. It isn’t about the candidates. It’s about the voting public, who deserve to hear more from the strongest contenders. So, they arrange the candidates on the stage based on the most recent poll numbers, with the strongest polling candidates in the middle and getting more questions. What else can they do? In the foreign policy debate on CBS, I thought the moderators did a good job of calling on candidates with conflicting points of view on China, Iran, torture etc. — including Ron Paul.

  • For Liberty

    John W.,

    The final word count per candidate from the recent CBS debate includes the following:

    Paul = 258
    Huntsman = 565
    Bachmann = 578
    Cain = 650
    Santorum = 963
    Gingrich = 974
    Perry = 1,130
    Romney = 1,262

    The CBS word count results is after Ron Paul consistently polls among the top three in the key early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire. He is polling in double digits in most respected polls. Congressman Paul is ranked among the top three in fundraising results. Congressman Paul serves on the House Foreign Relations Committee. Congressman Paul is a veteran. And, Congressman Paul has contrasting views on foreign policy that many Americans find worthy of inquiry and discussion.

    CBS’s treatment of Congressman Paul is disgraceful, especially given that the debate centered on foreign policy and national security.

    As mentioned by Ralph, Congressman Paul was only allocated 90 seconds of speaking in one televised hour.

    The media’s treatment towards Congressman Paul appears to be a specific intent to censor a top tier candidate.

    If we are to have an authentic national conversation on issues such as security and defense, we can and must do better to ensure that all voices are heard.

  • John W

    Re: #7

    Hmmm. You seem to have a point. I know he spoke on the subject of taking out Iran’s nukes and on waterboarding. But much of the debate was about Pakistan and China, and he didn’t get into those arguments. I think part of it is that the other candidates are more aggressive about speaking up, even when a question isn’t addressed to them; and taking liberties with the time limits when they are asked. Also, some of the time candidates get is rebuttal time when another candidate’s statement seems to critize a position they’ve taken. Romney gets in lots of time both because of questions addressed to him and rebuttals. Ron Paul doesn’t get rebuttal time, because none of the other candidates bothers taking shots at him. That’s not CBS’s fault. Hard to believe that CBS has any more bias against Ron Paul than, say, Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry.