Newt’s Un-Campaign

DES MOINES – Naureen Khan does a nice job summing up the new-new-new-new (repeat 8x) conventional wisdom of Iowa: Rick Santorum, by experiencing a burst of support after 100 days of campaigning and more than 350 town halls, is “saving retail politics.” So much for Cain’s book tour, or Newt’s consciousness-raising speeches about brain science. Long live the old politics!

Or, you know, maybe not. Gingrich is launching another leg of his “Jobs and Growth” bus tour today, starting in Des Moines, continuing to southwest Iowa. He started at a country club, at a Rotary Club meeting, fueled by eggs and pastries at 7 a.m. A compelled crowd, a standard stump speech, with an attack Gingrich has just started making on wealth and politics. It was a disgrace that the likes of Mike Bloomberg could buy elections. It was time to let anyone donate as much as they wanted to campaigns, but declare it. (Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, both wealthy, haven’t actually sunk much of their own on this race. I didn’t read this as an attack on them.)

He took questions. He did take a little credit for his bold, profound approach to campaigning.

“Two weeks ago,” he said, “I gave a speech on brain science. Which may strike you as not a presidential candidate speech.”

It played well. Laurie Day, one of the Rotarian board members who set the event up, said she had narrowed her choices down to Gingrich, Romney, and Paul. “I want the candidate who’ll deliver the most radical change,” she explained. (Romney made the grade because of his turnaround cred.) Rotarians milled around, impressed by the candidate and his Ideas.

The next Newt stop was more unusual. He sat for a Cafe Moms forum, hosted by Frank Luntz, at the less-than-spacious Java Joe’s cafe in downtown Des Moines. A room typically used for comedy and music became a staging ground where maybe 50 people could sit comfortably. Maybe 100 packed inside. I briefly sat next to Keith West, who had come to see Newt with his comedy partner Bob Zany.

“I want to get a picture of Bob with Newt,” he said, “because, you remember how Romney called Newt ‘zany?’”

Our time as seatmates was short-lived. An organizer, grappling with a surge of attendees that nearly led to the Des Moines Register being turned away, asked reporters to move to “make room for the moms.” I made room for the moms, and occupied some floor planks next to Melanie White, a mom from Urbandale.

“I’ve never caucused before,” she said, “but I feel so strongly about Newt.”