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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field / COMMENTARY

Mitt Versus Newt Won't Be Like Hillary Versus Barack

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, left, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney share a laugh during a break in the first New Hampshire Republican presidential debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Monday, June 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)(AP Photo/Jim Cole)

December 5, 2011

The 2012 Republican primary probably won't be much like the 2008 Democratic primary, but Mitt Romney's campaign is organizing just in case the nomination fight against Newt Gingrich lasts all the way into the spring. The New York Times' Trip Gabriel and Jeff Zeleny report that if neither Romney or Gingrich have decisive victories in the early voting states, "Gingrich could be faced with the ultimate challenge to his campaign: the need to survive a war of attrition of the sort for which he is unprepared at the moment." Romney is organized in Alabama, Indiana, Delaware, and lots of other later-voting states, while Gingrich's campaign didn't file the paperwork in time to get on the Missouri caucus ballot. The Washington Post's Philip Rucker, too, reports that Gingrich's campaign is trying to create a huge organization in just a couple of weeks, with staffers sending all-caps emergency e-mails to Republicans in Ohio to get enough signatures to get on that state's ballot. Ohio votes in March, though, and it doesn't seem likely that both guys will be around by then. Not only does Gingrich not have the organization of Barack Obama, he doesn't have the message that Republicans want to hear or an army of new voters to help him win in late-voting states.

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The establishment candidate is also the organized candidate

 

Outsider Obama outmaneuvered front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton by organizing in late-voting states and by having a strong organization in the Iowa caucuses. But this year, the well-organized candidate is also the establishment choice: Romney. Obama's surprise victory in Iowa was thanks to his organization -- really important for Democrats, as Matthew Dowd, who was chief strategist for George W. Bush in 2004, explains at ABC News. But that organization isn't important for Republicans in the state, he says. The Democratic caucus "involves meeting certain mandated thresholds, convening in groups at each caucus, reconvening, and using various mathematical equations that are instrumental to choosing a winner," Dowd writes, but Republicans just show up and vote, and then those votes are counted. That means that enthusiasm matters as much as organization.

The Post reports that Gingrich has hired Bush veteran Gordon C. James to build his organization, saying, “I’m just banking on 33 years with the Bush family and all those friends I’ve made to help us do that." But while James might have a lot of friends, Gingrich has a ton of enemies. Sen. Tom Coburn, who was first elected in 1994 -- Gingrich's Republican Revolution -- said on Fox News on Sunday that he wasn't "inclined" to support Gingrich. Coburn explained, "There’s all types of leaders. Leaders that instill confidence, leaders that are somewhat abrupt and brisk. Leaders that have one standard for the people that they’re leading and a different standard for themselves. I just found his leadership lacking."

Obama's secret weapon was young people, Gingrich's is old people

Obama was able to bring in new voters outside of the traditional groups that lined up behind Clinton: young people. But Gingrich's "secret weapon," as Talking Points Memo's Benjy Sarlin put it, is old people. Enthusiasm for Gingrich is not among insurgent activists, but seniors.

Gingrich will have a hard time attacking Romney on health care

Another problem that Gingrich will have in sustaining the enthusiasm of the piss-off Republican Party base is that he's weak on the issue they care about most. Obama had the advantage of being on record against the Iraq war early on, which appealed to Democrats frustrated by eight years of the Bush administration, while Clinton had voted to authorize the war in 2002. Clinton was seen as much more hawkish. But Gingrich can't make a similar contrast with Romney, because in the 1990s he endorsed the part of Obama's health care overhaul -- the individual mandate -- that Republicans hate the most.

Obama had a disciplined campaign, Gingrich doesn't

Obama's campaign valued loyalty -- and no leaking to the press. Obama strategist David Axelrod even told Politico, "There are no assholes. There are going to be no assholes on this campaign.” That helped limit stories about internal bickering that plagued Clinton's campaign. By contrast, Gingrich's campaign staff quit on him this summer and then proceeded to talk mad smack about him in the press for days.

A long primary gave Obama a lot of time to introduce himself to people who had never heard of him, while a long primary gives Gingrich a chance to remind people why he was run out of town in 1998

A four- or five-month long process means lots of time to rehash the Gingrich years: impeachment, ethics probe, marriages, the government shutdown. And a long nomination fight means that Gingrich will have more opportunities to indulge in one of his weaknesses -- saying things that make Republicans really mad. Gingrich famously called a Republican plan to overhaul Medicare "right-wing social engineering," and it nearly killed his campaign. In the last couple of weeks, Gingrich has already floated amnesty for some illegal immigrants and ending child labor laws.

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