A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that Mitt Romney remains the likely Republican nominee in spite Newt Gingrich’s recent surge in the polls. The smart money over at the political futures market Intrade still likes Romney, giving him a 50% chance of winning the nomination, while give Gingrich just a 30% chance. But I’m starting to think Gingrich is the favorite now.
The case against Gingrich in a nutshell is that he is unlikable and generally weird. There’s a reason why the former Speaker of the House essentially dropped out of politics for years. His brash, confrontational style—particularly during the 1995 governmental shutdown—made him an unpopular Speaker. His problem is not so much that he is constantly dogged by the story that he demanded a divorce from his wife Jackie while she was in the hospital recovering from surgery to treat her uterine cancer. It’s that the callousness that story suggests seems to match his reputation for contempt and arrogance. Mitt Romney may come across as wooden, but his negatives with the general public are much lower than Gingrich’s. That’s why the the Obama team has concentrated its attacks on Romney. Obama would probably be fairly happy to face Gingrich in the general election. Gingrich certainly isn’t going to win a charisma contest with President Obama.
But poll after poll shows Gingrich surging in key battleground states, and he now leads Romney nationwide. Conservative primary voters have never connected with the historically progressive, pragmatic Romney. It doesn’t help that there’s video of him in 2002 saying, “I think people recognize that I’m not a partisan Republican, that I’m someone who is moderate, and my views are progressive.” Newt may still not be the favorite of conservative values voters, but his role in crafting the original “Contract with America” makes him something of a hero to some members of the Tea Party. And Gingrich may have better chance of winning key Rust Belt states than Romney, who made his fortune and his name downsizing the workforce of the companies he purchased. As Rudy Giuliani recently told CNN, “Gingrich might actually be the stronger candidate, because I think he can make a broader connection than Mitt Romney to those Reagan Democrats.”
Obama would probably still prefer to face Gingrich in a general election. But with the weak economy, Gingrich could certainly win. After all, most people didn’t like Nixon that much either.
Photo: Gage Skidmore