Gingrich implodes, Romney skips straw poll and other Iowa caucus news

Political junkies may not have Newt Gingrich to kick around much longer. His whole presidential campaign staff quit yesterday, frustrated by the candidate’s lack of a work ethic.

Iowa Republicans will have fewer chances to kick Mitt Romney around this summer. The former Massachusetts governor won’t compete in the Iowa GOP’s straw poll this August, his campaign confirmed yesterday.

After the jump I have more links on those stories and other Republican presidential candidate news. I’ve got nothing on the Iowa GOP Lincoln dinner fundraiser that was supposed to be held tonight, though, because the state party canceled that event after Donald Trump backed out.

Newt Gingrich’s campaign rollout last month didn’t go well, to put it mildly. The decent-sized crowds he was drawing in Iowa were about the only thing he had going for him. Nevertheless, Gingrich left Iowa in late May with no plans to return until shortly before July 4. Will Rogers, a key Iowa hire, resigned from the Gingrich campaign ten days ago, questioning the candidate’s commitment to grassroots politics in this state. Yesterday the rest of the Iowa paid staff and the top Gingrich national staffers called it a day:

“The professional team came to the realization that the direction of the campaign they sought and Newt vision for campaign were incompatible,” said [strategist Dave] Carney.

Gingrich was intent on using technology and standing out at debates to get traction while his advisers believed he needed to run a campaign that incorporated both traditional, grassroots techniques as well as new ideas.

“We felt like he’d be better off if he had the opportunity to procede with his vision and how he wants to do things,” said a source.

One official said the last straw came when Gingrich went forward with taking a long-planned cruise with his wife last week in the Greek isles.

Why did the Iowa staffers walk away?

“You have to be able to raise money to run a campaign and you have to invest time in fundraising and to campaign here in the state and I did not have the confidence that was going to be happening,” said Craig Schoenfeld, the Iowa executive director of Newt 2012.

“I’ve seen the schedule for June and July going into the straw poll. It’s clear there wasn’t a path to success,” he said. […]

Shortly before 3 p.m. today, Gingrich posted this message on his Facebook page: “I am committed to running the substantive, solutions-oriented campaign I set out to run earlier this spring. The campaign begins anew Sunday in Los Angeles.”

But there’s no one left in Iowa to organize for him.

Schoenfeld said all six of Gingrich’s remaining paid staff here resigned today: Katie Koberg, deputy director; Paige Thorson, coalitions director; Daniel Weiser, field staff; Ryan Keller, field staff; and Joe Heuertz, field staff.

I feel much like I did as I watched Gingrich’s Congressional career implode in 1998: couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. I never expected Gingrich to do well in Iowa, especially after last month’s blunders, but I didn’t appreciate what a lazy candidate he would be:

Frustration with Gingrich’s lack of campaigning and fundraising built over time, but it was the candidate’s 10-day cruise around Greece that really upset him, [Will] Rogers said.

Rogers, who headed grassroots effort here, said dozens of Iowa GOP activists and business leaders were asking for Gingrich to make an appearance.

“I’d say, ‘Oh, great. Thanks for inviting us. We’ll get this sent up to the Washington, D.C. folks,'” Rogers said. “And then I’d send it to the D.C. folks and it would be radio silence. A few days later, you’d ask again and you’d ask again and you wouldn’t hear anything back. At first I thought it was the staff. And then I came to find out it was the candidate.”

Rogers went back to his job as legislative affairs director for the Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association. If the other Gingrich Iowa staffers land as a group with some other candidate, Pawlenty seems like the obvious choice. Perhaps they will scatter among several campaigns. Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer is Gingrich’s state chair. She said yesterday that she is “reserving any decision” on her role with the campaign until she talks with Gingrich. I haven’t seen any comment yet from Iowa House Speaker Pro Tempore Jeff Kaufmann, another Gingrich endorser.

Meanwhile, the leader of the latest Iowa Republican poll has chosen to take a less visible role here this summer. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s campaign confirmed that he won’t compete in the Iowa GOP’s August 13 straw poll. reported,

“Our campaign has made the decision to not participate in any straw polls, whether it’s in Florida, Iowa, Michigan or someplace else,” said Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades. “We respect the straw poll process. In the last presidential campaign, we were both strengthened as an organization and learned some important lessons by participating in them. This time, we will focus our energies and resources on winning primaries and caucuses. We look forward to bringing Mitt Romney’s strong pro-jobs message to every part of the country.”

The Aug. 13 straw poll in Ames is considered the first test of a presidential candidate’s organizational strength. The Iowa Republican Party and FOX News will hold a live, televised presidential debate two days prior to that event.

Romney’s decision is part of his strategy to focus less on social issues and more on the economy. He particularly sought to participate in the May 27 forum with the Greater Des Moines Partnership, because he wanted the focus to be on economic development. That event was cut short when burnt popcorn set off the smoke detectors. […]

In a statement released by the campaign, former Iowa GOP Chairman Brian Kennedy of Bettendorf spoke in favor of Romney’s decision.

“The campaign is making a smart decision to not to compete in the upcoming series of straw polls,” Kennedy said. “Mitt’s focus is on winning the nomination, not the straw polls. Mitt will be back in Iowa this summer and will participate in the Ames debate.”

I was under the impression that only candidates competing in the straw poll would be invited to that FOX News televised debate. I’ll update this post if I see comments from Iowa GOP leaders clarifying that point.

Iowa GOP Chair Matt Strawn released the following statement after news leaked about Romney:

“I’ll leave it to the pundits and voters to assess the wisdom of skipping an event of tremendous importance to tens of thousands of Iowa Republicans and caucusgoers.”

“More than ever, Iowa Republicans are energized and motivated to utilize the Ames Straw Poll as a catalyst toward building a 99-county organization to deny President Obama a second term.”

“I’m encouraged that this grassroots energy, combined with the need for other Presidential campaigns to demonstrate their organizational strength and support, will lead to a very successful Ames Straw Poll in August.”

Critics have bashed the straw poll for becoming a very expensive and risky event for campaigns. Craig Robinson isn’t buying that:

While campaigns have a history of purchasing tickets for the Iowa Straw Poll, providing food and entertainment, and bussing supporters to Ames, it should be noted that this is something individual campaigns choose to do.   They are not forced to do any of it.

Mike Huckabee didn’t bus people to the event, and he did well.  He also didn’t feed with Hickory Park barbeque.  Instead, his guests dined on watermelon, much less expensive barbeque, and consumed water.  Maybe Huckabee’s next book should be “How to Do The Iowa Straw Poll on a Budget.”  I’m sure he would sell a few copies.  Candidates like Romney, Bush, and Forbes chose to wine and dine their supporters in Ames, but they were not forced.  It’s not a shake down when nobody forces you to spend money in a certain way.

Huckabee spent around $150,000 on the straw poll, and  Americans for Fair Taxation spent about that much on Huckabee’s behalf. (That group did bus supporters to the Ames event in 2007.) It’s still an lot of money for a one-day media circus, and I don’t see much upside for Romney in participating.

By ditching the straw poll, Romney has dented Governor Terry Branstad’s clout. Branstad made a big point of putting the welcome mat out for all GOP presidential candidates this spring. In particular, he warned Romney against writing off Iowa. Romney’s 2008 Iowa co-chair, Doug Gross, said last month that he believes the field is open for an economic conservative here, with Huckabee out of the race and many candidates vying for the social conservative niche. Gross hasn’t committed to supporting Romney again, however. Sara Craig will run Romney’s Iowa campaign this year, with David Kochel as leading Iowa adviser. Before the 2008 caucuses, Romney had a more high-powered staff including Tim Albrecht (now Branstad’s communications director) and Nicole Schlinger (now working for Tim Pawlenty).

Romney isn’t the only GOP hopeful looking to downplay Iowa’s importance. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman said last week he would not compete in the caucuses because he opposes ethanol subsidies. The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association politely invited Huntsman to Iowa “learn how politics and policy actually work here”. Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz put the smackdown on Huntsman in an official statement that prompted an ethics complaint by the Iowa Democratic Party.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is rumored to be planning to run for president again. As in 2007, he won’t bother to campaign much in Iowa if he runs. This time, instead of betting the farm on the Florida primary, Giuliani will supposedly go after the heavy favorite Romney in New Hampshire. Speaking of farms, Giuliani’s disrespect for an Iowa couple who wanted to support him in 2007 is one of my favorite campaign missteps from the last election cycle.

I have to laugh when Iowa Republicans and journalists chide candidates for passing on the caucuses. (Kathie Obradovich: Please come visit us! We will defy your stereotypes and expectations!) David Yepsen used to say “there are only three tickets out of Iowa,” but John McCain proved that wasn’t true by winning the nomination after skipping the Ames straw poll and finishing fourth on caucus night. Why wouldn’t a moderate decide not to invest much here?

Iowa Republicans will see plenty of campaign events in the next seven months as an energetic group fights for the scraps. Iowa is a must-win state for former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. He officially launched his campaign in Des Moines and recently swung through western Iowa. Some of his events last week had to be canceled due to flooding and scheduling issues, while others were sparsely attended. Pawlenty will need to generate crowds this summer and probably has the most to lose if he does poorly in the Ames straw poll.

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum made another swing through Iowa this week after officially launching his campaign in Pennsylvania on June 6. Tomorrow Santorum will formally open his state headquarters in Urbandale and will attend the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators Conference in Des Moines. Homeschoolers and their children are said to have played an important role as advocates and volunteers when Huckabee broke out of the pack in 2007.

It’s hard to know whether Santorum is gaining support here, because Public Policy Polling left him out of their latest Iowa poll. Over at The Iowa Republican blog, Craig Robinson warns us all not to discount Santorum’s chances. As I read that post, the ad for the American Future Fund on the right side of the screen reminded me that Nick Ryan (a key figure in the American Future Fund) happens to be a paid consultant for Santorum’s campaign.

Santorum has spoken frequently about abortion during his many Iowa visits. This week he met with Iowa Right to Life activists and tried to set himself apart on the issue:

Santorum said he is glad that his rivals for the GOP nomination also are pro-life, “but none of them have really taken the role of leadership on this issue” that he has, he told reporters. He co-sponsored legislation addressing Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s later-term abortion practice while still in the Senate. Carhart is as the center of the Iowa discussion. State lawmakers are trying to prevent him from opening a Council Bluffs clinic where late-term abortions would be performed. Carhart wants to open a clinic there because of changes in the Nebraska law limit his practice.

“I was the author of partial-birth abortion statute; I was the author of the born alive protection act; I was a leader on the unborn victims of violence act, I was a leader on embryonic stem research,” he said. “These are initiatives that I took the lead on a national scale and took to the floor of the United States Senate and argued those things.”

He hasn’t seen that level of activity from his rivals, Santorum added.

“It’s one thing to go before a pro-life group and say I’m pro-life; it’s another thing to go out and actively work as an elected official to make real changes in the culture when it comes to this issue,” he said, arguing that this issues separates him from the GOP pack.

Cornered by Think Progress while in Iowa this week, Santorum stood by his asinine statement that he and John McCain have a different understanding of how “enhanced interrogation” techniques work. I would like to see Santorum cite Biblical verses supporting his views on torture.

U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas picked up his second endorsement from an Iowa legislator this week. First-term State Representative Kim Pearson, a tea party favorite and surprise winner last November, explained her choice:

“Ron Paul’s principled and courageous positions in defense of the Constitution are an inspiration. His understanding of the problems America faces and his limited-government solutions make him the statesman we need to lead America out of our moral and financial crisis.”

“My whole family is united in our support for Ron Paul,” Pearson stated. “He is the only Presidential candidate with the experience, integrity and tenacity to do what needs to be done in Washington.”

In May, first-term State Representative Glen Massie also endorsed Paul. Massie and Pearson have been allies in the state legislature. They are occasional thorns in the side of the Iowa House Republican leadership, just as Paul sometimes votes differently from most Republicans in Congress.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain is having a good couple of weeks. He tied for second place at 15 percent in Public Policy Polling’s latest survey of Iowa Republicans. He did events with Bob Vander Plaats’ group FAMiLY Leader this week and was well-received. After a speech in Pella, Cain said he would have no problem with appointing “an openly gay person” to a White House staff position.

I’ll be interested to see how much other Republicans criticize Cain. Santorum in particular may see Cain as a threat, because he needs support from social conservatives to break through in Iowa and South Carolina. Santorum told a South Carolina audience recently that Cain “never won an election. And it’s not that he hasn’t tried. He’s run twice and lost.”

Cain often falters when asked specific policy questions, as happened last weekend during the Faith and Family Conference in Washington, DC. Incidentally, Cain took a little jab at Bachmann and Pawlenty for including prayers in their speech to the Faith and Family Conference audience (“the ultimate pander,” according to Cain). He’s gotten some digs in on Romney and Santorum too.

Representative Michele Bachmann is another candidate who may need to halt Cain’s rise. Bachmann is one of Steve King’s closest allies in Congress and is popular with Iowa conservatives. She missed the May 27 Polk County GOP dinner in order to stay in Washington to vote on the PATRIOT Act. I enjoyed the petulant whining from some central Iowa Republicans, as if Bachmann was wrong to do her job rather than attend their fundraiser.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson hasn’t spent much time in Iowa yet, but he is participating in a tea party bus tour of Iowa, which will make a few dozen stops over three weeks. Four other presidential candidates have agreed to take part in the bus tour: Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, and Pawlenty. Johnson and his campaign staff are rightly angry that CNN did not invite him to participate in its New Hampshire debate on June 13. Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Paul, Pawlenty, Romney and Santorum will all be on stage.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is a big question mark. My best guess is that she will keep her FOX News contract rather than run for president, but who can predict? The big Palin news splash lately was her bizarre interpretation of Paul Revere’s ride, and she is sticking to that story no matter how many people mock her for it. Wikipedia temporarily locked its Paul Revere page to stop users from trying to add Palin’s version of history to the site.

Any comments about the 2012 presidential campaign are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: I can’t believe I forgot to mention that Cain is waging war on big government by pledge not to sign any bill more than three pages long. That’s the kind of promise he’ll need to stop making if he gains enough support to be considered a serious contender.

Some of the departing Gingrich staffers are blaming Callista Gingrich for the campaign’s scheduling problems:

ABC News has learned that one of the major issues between former Speaker Newt Gingrich and his (now former) senior campaign staff revolves around the myriad projects he and his wife Callista work on, which staffers describe as a constant distraction from the campaign.

Senior staffers demanded that Gingrich focus on pressing the flesh and fundraising and stop touring the country promoting film projects with his wife. At one point Gingrich was so focused on film premiers and book signings, one senior staffer emailed the team: “We didn’t sign up to be hucksters for products for sale”

But sources say Callista controls the schedule. They say she refused to allow the candidate to attend a Memorial Day Weekend parade in key early primary state South Carolina unless a film screening was set up in the state.  

“We didn’t sign up to be hucksters”? You have to be willfully blind not to notice that Newt loves to sell his own books and films.

Chris Cillizza reports on “The fall of the House of Newt.” Gingrich “had no real finance network” and therefore wasn’t meeting goals for fundraising. Differences over strategy also worried the staffers:

But, as the campaign wore on – a term used advisedly given that Gingrich has only been running for a month – it became clear that his definition of new and different was at odds with how his top aides framed it.

One example: Gingrich became convinced that one of the keys to his winning in Iowa was in targeting the Chinese community living in the state. Apparently, he had been told by a Chinese man at a campaign event that as many as 10,000 Chinese Americans lives in the state, one source explained.

Gingrich also wanted to focus heavily on what are widely regarded as second or third tier issues – replacing the Environmental Protection Agency, for example – that his strategists thought would ring hollow to an electorate deeply concerned about the economic welfare of the country.

About that Chinese vote: the U.S. Census Bureau says Asians comprise about 1.7 percent of Iowa’s population, which works out to just under 51,800 people. I don’t know how many Iowans of Asian descent are Chinese or how many are of voting age, but 10,000 could be in the ballpark. Conservative blogger Shane Vander Hart asks a good question, though: if Gingrich believes in the importance of the Chinese-American vote in Iowa, why did he skip last month’s CelebrAsian festival in Des Moines?

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  • "3 pages"

    Yes, Cain’s pledge to veto anything longer than 3 pages was ill-advised.  Except he’s saying it was hyperbole.  Whether it was originally intended as hyperbole or not, it’s good that he understands it’s unrealistic.

    As for Newt – yeah, he’s toast.  I’m surprised, though, that you don’t mention that rumors have half his (national) staff jumping straight to Rick Perry.