CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa Republicans who get a call from someone with a Southern drawl talking to them about Newt Gingrich’s campaign for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination know it’s not their neighbor calling.
Neither is it a paid telemarketer.
Those folks asking you to support “Neuwt” are his Georgia volunteers who the former Speaker of the House has mobilized in the wake of a much publicized shake-up in his campaign.
The “very soft” phone-banking says is a direct contrast to his rivals who are doing “a lot of frantic organizing for the Ames straw poll” Aug. 13, Gingrich told me after a luncheon speech to 50-plus Linn County Republicans.
“From my perspective, the real election is in January,” said Gingrich, who won’t be in Iowa until the end of the week. Apparently he’s anticipating the caucuses, now scheduled for Feb. 6, will have to be moved up to stay ahead of primaries and caucuses in other states. “I don’t feel this summer is the time to make that pitch.”
So Gingrich is crisscrossing Iowa, albeit at a much slower pace than his rivals. It’s a pace reminiscent of earlier caucus campaigns when candidate visited county fairs, walked in local parades and stopped at diners to meet the real Iowans.
“I’m listening to people,” says Gingrich. He’s become more reflective since leaving office in 1999. Now he tries “to understand and reach bigger, long-term solutions.”
“You have to learn and then you have to think and then you get to lead. It’s a cycle of learning, thinking leading,”
He’s learning the “world out here is radically different than the world of Washington and the world of experts.”
Gingrich, who was traveling with two staffs, says running a lean campaign “gets you down to a pace of you and the voters. Where you and the voters are connecting and there’s not a lot of clutter in between.”
“This is who I am,” he says about the downsized campaign.
He’s replaced the consultants with his Georgia volunteers making phone calls and teleconference calls on various issues. He’s using Google+ free video conferences to have “genuinely two-way conversations and real dialogue.”
After the Republican Party of Iowa/Fox News debate Aug. 11 and the Iowa GOP Straw Poll, Gingrich plans to ramp up his campaign. Starting in September there will be nearly a debate a week, he says, which will allow him to “get into substance in a big way.”
While he is taking the campaign trail less traveled for the moment, Gingrich insists he knows how to run a “big” campaign.
“I’ve been on campaign swings. I get it. I’ve done events with 10,000 people,” he says. “We’ll get to the point. I suspect that by November, December we’ll be looking a lot more like a traditional campaign.
In the meantime, Gingrich is crafting a very specific set of proposals based on what he’s hearing from Iowans. Once he has the message, it won’t take long to deliver it, he says.
“We live in an age of very fast communication,” Gingrich says. “If we figure out the messages that are real, that are historically right, that also resonate with people, if we get them down right, we can communicate them to every person in Iowa in six days.”
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich signed in for a Linn Eagles luncheon on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, at the Cedar Rapids Country Club in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/SourceMedia Group News)