Newt Gingrich has been lying low this month, slipping in the polls and public opinion but gearing up for yet another comeback in the rollercoaster Republican primary. Gingrich was never expected to do well in February’s nominating contests. So while Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney duke it out in Michigan, the former House Speaker has been shoring up his campaign war chest during a five-day swing through California, a state that won’t vote until June.
But Gingrich’s trip to California is about more than just money — the state is the lynchpin in his campaign’s revamped delegate strategy, which focuses on targeting conservative strongholds and far-right fringe districts across the country.
In a move that signals California’s importance to Gingrich’s comeback, the campaign has dispatched Adam Waldeck, the operative behind Newt’s South Carolina surprise, to lead field operations in the Golden State.
“We see California as a big opportunity — we think we can pick up a lot of delegates here,” Waldeck told Business Insider. “Everybody I have talked to here is really enthusiastic. They want to make sure California matters in the whole race.”
Changes in California’s delegate rules, from a winner-take-all state to one that is (mostly) winner-take-all by Congressional district, provide an opening for Gingrich, Waldeck said.
The change allows Gingrich to target specific Congressional districts — specifically those that are rich with conservatives and evangelicals — and largely bypass the expensive media strategy that campaigns typically employ in California, he added.
“It’s almost like they are mini-states,” Waldeck explained. “It looks like the effect this will have is that you’ll see the candidates spending a lot more time here, going around to a lot of different places, maybe even some that aren’t used to seeing Republican candidates.”
To compete in California, Gingrich is depending on a grassroots one-two punch from the state’s large Tea Party groups and large evangelical community. Waldeck is now reaching out to those grassroots networks, using ties he formed as Newt’s “liaison to the Tea Party” at the candidate’s now-defunct American Solutions PAC.
“The 2010 red wave didn’t really get to California, so there are a lot of conservatives who are ready to go, and who are excited about the primary,” Waldeck told BI. “Newt is a grassroots candidate — he’s not a candidate of the Establishment. I think he has attracted a lot of grassroots-oriented people, whether it’s grassroots from a Tea Party-perspective or grassroots from a social conservative perspective, we’re seeing it from all corners.”
This alliance of the Tea Party with social conservative activists could end up being Gingrich’s trump card in California. The campaign’s new ‘Faith Leaders Dream Team’ includes several prominent pastor-activists, including San Diego megachurch pastor Jim Garlow, who orchestrated California’s Prop. 8 campaign, and California activist David Lane, whose famous Pastor Briefings energized thousands of evangelical leaders during the 2010 election cycle.
These pastors — along with other evangelical leaders like former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts and Christian marketing guru George Barna — are at the forefront of a new religious movement that aims to break down denominational and ethnic divides and unite American evangelicals behind conservative causes. Their involvement in Gingrich’s campaign provides some insight into Newt’s ambitious plan to unite fiscal and social conservatives, including minority constituencies that are typically left untouched by Republican candidates.
“Most black people don’t think alike — most black people just vote alike,” Watts told Business Insider. “One of the critical questions for the Republican party in the 21st century is why is it that people that are conservatives don’t vote that way?”
Newt, Watts said, is the rare Republican who understands this. “He’s gone out to communities in California that say, ‘This is the first time a Republican has been in our neighbourhood, been in our community talking to us.'”
Gingrich provided a glimpse into this strategy at a prayer meeting in Las Vegas earlier this month. The gathering, which drew more than 1,000 people, indicated that the former Speaker understands the language of social conservatives, and has a voice that resonates.
Unlike Santorum, whose social conservatism centres around family values, Gingrich’s message is characteristically grandiose. In particular, his ideas for reforming the judiciary to reign in “activist judges” fire up those who see the federal courts as a major threat to religious liberty. More broadly, Gingrich’s historical vision of America and American Exceptionalism speaks to those who believe that the country has gotten dangerously off track, both morally and economically.
“I’m really drawn to his sense of history — it gives us a sense of how we get out of this mess we’re in,” Garlow told Business Insider. “My dream is to change the heart of Americans, so that we’re not having to vote through the same issues every two years.”
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