I have said this before, but obviously it is important to say it again. If Gingrich wants to have a realistic shot at the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, he is going to have to win the Iowa and South Carolina nominating contests. And while Gingrich may be leading in the polls, converting those leads at the ballot box requires a well-oiled ground game.
Right now, Gingrich has few assets on the ground in the early primary states, which makes capitalizing on those current polling numbers extremely difficult. To make matters worse, Team Gingrich is not even on the ballot in certain primary contests. Politico’s Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman chime in:
At the moment, Gingrich has only a spare operation in the early primary states — he didn’t have an Iowa headquarters until this week. At a recent Republican Party of Iowa dinner, several Republicans discussed how impressed they were by Gingrich and said they wanted to help his campaign, if only they could find someone to contact.
Campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond said Gingrich now has 24 staff members in the first three primary and caucus states, including six in Iowa, eight in New Hampshire and 10 in South Carolina.
The Gingrich staff size is set to expand, sources said, and the campaign is expected to add national-level talent and hire aides in Florida soon.
But his current staff is acutely aware of the fact that they are racing against the clock to sustain the momentum of their late-surging candidate. One adviser in Iowa acknowledged that there was simply no time to build the extensive turnout operation required to win the Iowa caucuses, joking: “The furniture just moved in yesterday.”
The story is similar in New Hampshire, where Gingrich hired a state director – conservative activist Andrew Hemingway – about a month ago. Hemingway says Gingrich now has “every county with county captains, a couple with multiple” but explains that his team is figuring out ways to make up for lost weeks and months.
“There’s not enough time. We’re not going to go out and ID all 100,000 voters. It’s all grass roots,” Hemingway said, explaining that the national Gingrich staff was “really empowering us at our level to say, ‘hey, you know New Hampshire best,’ so you use the resources we have to go and win.”
Should Gingrich survive the early-state gantlet of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, he’ll end up competing with Romney on a national level, in states where the former Massachusetts governor is well ahead of Gingrich in the organization game.
That head start includes the task of simply getting on the ballot: POLITICO contacted a number of states Thursday that hold contests later than January and found Romney had already filed in places such as Texas, Vermont and Missouri. Gingrich has not, and his campaign skipped filing for the nonbinding Missouri contest entirely. Romney had requested petitions for the D.C. primary. Gingrich hadn’t.