Can Newt Gingrich keep his lead in Iowa?

Dec 06, 2011

Propelled by his debate performances and the demise of Herman Cain's candidacy, former House speaker Newt Gingrich sits atop the Republican presidential field in Iowa with a clear lead over his closest competitors, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

But whether Gingrich has more staying power than the others who rose and then fell is the biggest question hanging over the Republican race today.

Chat with Post political reporter Dan Balz about Gingrich's lead and whether or not it will be short lived.

Related: Gingrich emerges as clear front-runner in Iowa

Welcome to this morning's chat about the surprising rise of Newt Gingrich and the new Post-ABC News poll that shows him with a big lead in Iowa over Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.  Now, on to the questions.

Hi, Dan.  Isn't Newt the beneficiary of not having had much of a standing in the polls? By being the last choice he gets all of the anti-Romney support as each of the prior candidates for this vote rise and fall. Newt's best asset in the race at this time is that there is no next choice. Huntsman, who also never moved up much in the polls, seems only to be the alternate to Romney for those that are Romney voters and that isn't enough to win anything.

There's no question that he's the beneficiary of the desire for an alternative to Romney and the inability of others to take advantage when they had the chance. Bachmann, Perry and Cain all had a shot at it but couldn't keep it going. Gingrich also has made great use of the debates. Without the debates, it's hard to say where he would be.


Doesn't Newt's rise point out the major flaw of the primary process? That is to say winning a portion of a small portion of the general electorate (those who vote in primaries) can produce skewed impressions of the country's political makeup. Would you agree that especially with the fracture in the GOP, this limitation has become even more of a challenge when determining what Newt's rise really represents?

I don't agree that it shows a flaw in the primary process. We haven't really had any votes yet, so we're still in the pre-primary and caucus stage. In both parties, it's the case that primaries tend to be dominated by people who are more conservative or more liberal than their parties at large. But they are also the people who provide a lot of the energy and organizational muscle that are important in a general election. The challenge for all presidential candidates is to find a way to appeal to and energize the base of the party and preserve room to appeal to independent or swing voters in the general election. When parties nominate someone who has gone too far in accommodating the base, they often lose the general election.


Not since a balding Dwight Eisenhower, have voters elected president a Republican with white hair. There was Barry Goldwater, Bob Dole, and John McCain most recently. Should Newt Gingrich look into coloring his hair?

Interesting theory! But I don't recall that Bob Dole had white hair.


What do you see as Gingrich's major assets, and then his major liabilties, in actually obtaining the Republican Party's nomination?

His assets include long experience in national politics and in dealing with the issues Congress and the president confront every day. He's pretty comfortable handling questions that come his way on just about everything -- and then some. His liabilities are the fact that he's been undisciplined as a political leader and that he has operated as much or more with confrontation rather than cooperation. He did cooperate with Bill Clinton, but only after the government shutdown cost his party.

As things stand now. Gingrich wins Iowa, Romney wins New Hampshire, Gingrich wins South Carolina and Romney wins Nevada. Is that correct? If Gingrich then goes on to win Florida, is it all over, or could Romney continue to fight in the way that the Clinton/Obama battle carried on through the spring? If the fight continues after Florida, what is next and who would be the favorite?

This is a fascinating question in part because we're dealing with a nominating process the Republicans have not had, which is to say proportional allocation of delegates in primaries and caucuses before April.


There are two ways to look at it. One is the momentum scenario, which is to say somebody wins a bunch of states early. Let's say Gingrich won Iowa, narrowly lost New Hampshire (not saying that will be the case, but certainly possible), wins South Carolina, wins Florida. Does he have the momentum that point that the party rallies behind him and whoever is second--presumably Romney--has to call it quits. That's what's happened in some races in the past -- certainly that's what happened with John Kerry in 2004.


But let's say Gingrich were to win Iowa, South Carolina and Florida. At best he would have a small lead in delegates. Romney has a lot of money -- he's spending this week raking in as much as he can at a bunch of fundraising events -- and is not that far behind in the delegate count. Perhaps he will have stirred up establishment Republican fears about Gingrich at this point and then can look toward later primaries, which are winner-take-all in some form or fashion, and overtake Gingrich.


Or let's say Romney unexpectedly wins Iowa, or wins Florida after winning New Hampshire and Nevada. Then you've got a different race.


So, bring on the voters!


You say that on the survey, Gingrich does as well as or better than Romney on the empathy scale. I can't believe he would even register on that scale. Can you explain that a bit? Maybe empathy doesn't mean what I think it means - ability to sympathize with others - no?

Empathy is something of a shorthand for a question that goes as follows: "Which candidate do you think best understands the problems of people like you?"


It's a measure of how people judge whether a candidate can identify with them and their own lives. In our poll, Gingrich runs better than Romney.


It seems to me, though I've not heard it yet, that the REAL reason Newt accepted Trump's debate was because it was yet another forum for him to shine (isn't that why he is where he is?). If you were another candidate, would you want to go up against that? (For that reason I can't understand why Santorum or anyone else would -- is that why some are hesitating?).

I think other candidates fear the Trump debate will be more about Trump and less about them. Trump is rarely overshadowed, especially when he bought the stage, lights and sound system. Gingrich loves the debates. Santorum needs the exposure. Others are understandably hesitant about playing. One way or another, if it comes off, it will be a show.


Gingrich is a "feel good" candidate who will not get his hands dirty with the unpleasant details of the pressing issues facing the country. Paul, on the other hand, is playing the role of "the messenger," and we all know what happened to him. James Anthony Ventura, CA

Ron Paul is a force in Iowa, according to our poll and interviews here in Iowa (I am in Des Moines this morning). He has a good organization here, which is why people like Gov. Terry Branstad expect him to finish well in the caucuses.


My question is: Is Newt electable? Nationally speaking - is he electable? Will the rank and file GOP see him as a viable candidate? Even given the visceral hatred of Obama, will the rank and file vote for Newt?

That depends on several things. One is obviously the state of the economy and the state of the Obama presidency. Many Republicans believe that if the economy is still bad, if unemployment is still high and if the president's approval ratings are in the low 40s, virtually anyone they nominate can win.


Let's say things are not quite that dire for the president next year, that his approval rating is in the mid-to-high 40s and that unemployment has ticked down further than the recent report that showed the rate at 8.6 percent. Then the Republican nominee's credentials, personality, ideas, temperament, etc., become a more significant factor.


Many Democrats and a number of Republicans see Gingrich as a riskier nominee for the GOP because of his history. That's why the Obama team long has assumed that Romney would be the likely nominee. But Romney has limitations that have made it difficult for him, so far, to consolidate the Republican base.


With Gingrich declaring himself as the nominee, are we about to witness GOP's very own 'Howard Dean ' moment?

Anyone who says they know how this race is going to play out is fooling you. Perhaps Gingrich is peaking at the right time. Perhaps he's peaking too early. Haley Barbour said he wouldn't yet call this a two-person race and that he wouldn't write off Rick Perry, despite the problems Perry has had.


All I'm saying is there has been a rush to judgment by the political community throughout 2011. The latest chapter is the rush to declare Gingrich the likely nominee. This race is still very open.


Gingrich is such a fan of these. Really, if he were to do this with Obama, does he really think he is going to come across as Lincoln, or Douglas? Even the physiques say Obama is Lincoln and Gingrich is Douglas.

Good question. Though remember, those Lincoln-Douglas debates were in 1858 when they were running for the Senate, and Douglas was elected to the Senate (this was when legislatures elected senators, not voters).


Dan, you're a fairly sober guy. You don't look for the easy punchline (ahem...Cillezza). I know you prefer sober, anlaytical, serious analysis. But, don't you think this entire Republican primary season is just really bizarre in a very funny way? I mean it just seems like a bad reality show. Don't you just feel like reality is beating out satire?

I'm shocked that you're taking shots at my friend Cillizza. You will not get Fix love for Christmas with this attitude!


Or maybe you're not taking shots at him! In any case, the more the merrier in trying to write about, let alone understand, this election.


Thanks to everyone and apologies to those whose questions didn't get answered. We've run out of time for the day. Now to make some rounds in Iowa to see what's really going on.


Have a great day.

--Dan Balz

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Dan Balz
Dan Balz is Washington Post national political reporter.
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