Newt Gingrich’s Nevada campaign unraveling
By: Ginger Gibson
February 3, 2012 03:37 PM EST
LAS VEGAS — Newt Gingrich is not on TV here. His daily events have slowed to a trickle. He’s got a bare-bones staff working in a tiny space rented just 2 weeks ago.
The most attention he’s received since arriving in Nevada came with his snub of the state’s popular governor. Or maybe from his campaign’s incorrect claim that it would be receiving Donald Trump’s endorsement.
Gingrich’s Nevada campaign, in other words, is a mess.
For a candidate who vows to fight on until the Tampa convention, with many miles to go before a nominee is selected, his operation here and in the next few states after this isn’t likely to inspire much confidence in his ability to compete with Mitt Romney.
With just one day to go before the Nevada caucuses, his campaign isn’t using its most potent weapon: Gingrich himself. The former House speaker used to hold daily press conferences to beat up on Mitt Romney, but did only one this week. The drumbeat of daily appearances has slowed dramatically.
The campaign is mostly bumbling around the Silver State, scheduling events only to cancel them, spending virtually nothing on advertising or infrastructure and demonstrating an inability to drive a message. He hasn’t been endorsed by a single Nevada elected official and there are serious tensions between his state and national staff over scheduling.
“It shows how difficult it is to put a quick organization and quick schedule together and try to make the most of a four-day campaign,” Las Vegas-based GOP strategist Robert S. Uithoven said. “It’s a four-year campaign versus a four-day campaign here in Nevada.”
In an ominous sign for Gingrich, the problem isn’t confined to Nevada. He’s also flying by the seat of his pants in the next round of states that will vote on Tuesday — Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. He doesn’t have much infrastructure in the first two states — Gingrich hired a spokesman Thursday in Colorado — and isn’t even on the ballot in Missouri. His campaign has been unable to say if he’ll even visit those states ahead of their votes.
The first sign of real trouble came the day after the Florida primary, when Gingrich canceled a scheduled photo op with Nevada’s Brian Sandoval, the popular first-term Republican governor.
Gingrich told reporters on Wednesday that the mishap was a scheduling issue and that his campaign was working to find another time.
“Once that meeting was confirmed, I think it was a very poor move,” said Uithoven, referring to the embarrassing snafu.
Then came early word from sources close to Gingrich — reported by POLITICO and other prominent news organizations — that Trump would endorse Gingrich at one of his Vegas casinos on Thursday. Asked about it on Wednesday, Gingrich was upbeat. But it turned out the reports were wrong and Trump instead endorsed Romney. Gingrich, while touring a equipment manufacturing facility, seemed downtrodden.
“No,” said Gingrich when asked if Trump would endorse him, giving an unusually brief response for a man not known for his brevity.
Asked if Trump was endorsing Romney, Gingrich replied with a flippant, “Who knows?”
When asked about why he was holding only one event a day, Gingrich on Wednesday said that more were being added. But the events haven’t materialized. When they have, there’s been little time to promote them to the general public.
Most of Gingrich’s time in Nevada is instead devoted to fundraising. The state is home to Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and primary patron of the Gingrich super PAC that has run blistering negative attacks against Romney and allowed Gingrich to remain in the game, as far as TV advertising is concerned.
The fundraising is no small matter for the campaign. Money will play an even more critical role moving forward as multiple states hold primaries on the same day — requiring a television presence — and retail politics begin to take a back seat. In Nevada, Gingrich hasn’t invested anything on television or radio.
“Media levels are critically important in this type of a short campaign and given how inexpensive media is in Nevada, it would be imperative for any candidate to be on the air full tilt until Saturday,” said Pete Ernaut, a Reno-based GOP strategist. “Big advantage to Gov. Romney.”
Gingrich’s Nevada operation can be understood by a glance at his state campaign headquarters.
On the side of busy Highway 95 sits a plain white office building that is home to a real estate business and a law firm. There are no “Gingrich 2012” signs, no banner hanging over the door.
A path of white paper signs with red arrows directing visitors to the Gingrich headquarters leads to a CPA office and back through a labyrinth of offices.
There are no yard signs leaning against the wall, no boxes of pamphlets or bumper stickers to be distributed. On a Thursday afternoon, two days before the caucuses, the offices are empty.
Bob Seale, a Gingrich supporter and a partner at the Seale and Beers firm from which the campaign is renting the office, said the campaign rented space in the building after Gingrich’s Jan. 21 win in South Carolina.
Volunteers set up camp in a hotel conference room in downtown Las Vegas on Tuesday, connecting 25 phones to reach out to Nevada voters. But by Thursday, a scheduling conflict had moved them into a one-bedroom suite on the third floor.
Only three phones remain plugged in and a handful of volunteers casually punched away at the dials.