Newt Plays Catch Up

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )

He’s up nationally, he’s up in Iowa, he’s up on the air with his first television ad. And now, we’re about to find out if Newt Gingrich can stand up a campaign organization befitting his new status in the Republican primary field.

“Some people say the America we know and love is a thing of the past,” Gingrich says in his new, 60-second television commercial, which starts today in Iowa. “I don’t believe that, because working together I know we can rebuild America.”

His campaign is buying $250,000 worth of airtime in the state that holds its caucuses on Jan. 3, and the ad comes on the heels of this weekend’s Des Moines Register Poll that showed Gingrich in the front of the pack with 25 percent compared to 18 percent for Ron Paul and 16 percent for Mitt Romney. (To put that in perspective, in the Register’s last poll in October, Gingrich wound up with 7 percent.)

Even so, Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn pointed out that 11 percent of those polled said they were undecided and 60 percent said they could still change their mind.

“It’s going to be a wild ride for the next four weeks,” Strawn said. “It still doesn’t seem that Iowa caucus voters are locked in.”

Newt’s big challenge: translating his new numbers into success in the caucuses. As ABC’s Shushannah Walshe reports from Des Moines, top officials in Gingrich’s Iowa campaign acknowledge that they have a lot of work to do.

“Obviously it’s a bit late in the game to find a county chair for every county, but in every county you are likely to identify people who are Gingrich supporters,” said Jeff Kaufman, the speaker pro tem of the Iowa House of Representatives, and a top Gingrich supporter in the state.

Meanwhile, Romney still hasn’t plunged into state with nearly the same zest as he did four years ago, but his campaign appears to be figuring out it’s Gingrich strategy. And members of the former Massachusetts governor’s inner-circle say they’re worried.

As The New York Times’ John Harwood notes, “For the first time since the nomination field became set in late summer, ‘it is possible’ that Mr. Romney could lose, said Vin Weber, a Republican former congressman from Minnesota.”



TODAY ON THE TRAIL. Gingrich meets with reality television personality and real estate mogul Donald Trump in New York City this morning and holds a press conference in the afternoon. His campaign said that Gingrich plans to “outline his 50-state strategy should the voters choose him to be the Republican nominee.”

Here’s an excerpt the campaign provided of a handout that will be released at Gingrich’s event this afternoon: “The Gingrich path insists that by unleashing choice and the power of the market, we can dramatically reduce inequality, create expansive opportunities for Americans of every income level, and overhaul our welfare and entitlement systems so that they are more secure, fairer, and can encourage even more economic growth.”

On “Good Morning America” today, ABC’s Jake Taper looked at how Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are responding to Gingrich. WATCH: And John Berman weighed in on the former House Speaker’s growing momentum. WATCH:


IN IOWA, IT’S AN AIR WAR. ABC’s Arlette Saenz reports: “Gingrich is not alone when it comes to making an advertising push in the state for the first time this week. Mitt Romney’s campaign announced last week that they would roll out their first advertisement, titled “The Right Answer,” in Iowa. A source tracking campaign ad buys told ABC News Romney has purchased $252,000 in broadcast in the Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Sioux City markets along with $13,000 in statewide cable on Fox News that will run for a week beginning Wednesday through Dec. 13. … Ron Paul is pouring $429,000 in advertisements on broadcast and cable for two weeks, running from Monday through Dec. 20, according to a source with knowledge of the buy. … The pro-Perry super PAC, Make Us Great Again, has tried to promote the Texas Governor through television ads as well. Starting this week, the super PAC placed an advertising buy for the week of December 3 through December 11 at a value of $297,000 in Iowa and South Carolina.”

THE WAY TO WIN. ABC Political Analyst Matthew Dowd argues that enthusiasm is actually much more important than organization — even in Iowa: “What is needed in the Iowa Republican Caucus is energized voters and momentum going into that day. If you have those things, an organization is not a real necessity. For example, by nearly every account, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had the best organization around going into the Ames Straw vote, but he didn’t have momentum or energy. So he finished third, and dropped out of the race the next day. … So in the next 30 days, don’t watch the organization. Watch for the outward signs of momentum, energy and passion for a candidate. Whichever candidate has got that spirit over the Christmas holidays is the bright star real political magi need to follow to figure out the winner in little towns throughout Iowa.”


ROMNEY’S ENDORSEMENT MONDAY. From the Romney campaign: Mitt Romney today announced the endorsement of Tennessee Congressmen Jimmy Duncan, Diane Black and Phil Roe.” In a statement Rep. Roe said, “As a physician, I’m also pleased that Governor Romney is committed to repealing the President’s deeply flawed heath care plan that will put Washington bureaucrats between patients and their doctors. I am proud to support Mitt Romney for President.”

The campaign also scored the backing of two New Hampshire sheriffs: “Wayne Estes (R-Strafford County) and Gerald Marcou (R-Coos County). They join Sheriffs Mike Downing (R-Rockingham County), Craig Wiggin (R-Belknap County), Michael Prozzo (R-Sullivan County), Scott Hilliard (R-Merrimack County) and Douglas Dutile (R-Grafton County) in supporting Governor Romney.”



TEAM CAIN SHOOTS DOWN ENDORSEMENT SPECULATION. Sources close to Herman Cain, who suspended his presidential bid this weekend, said that despite reports late Sunday night, Cain has no plans to announce his endorsement of a candidate on Monday. An Atlanta television station reported Cain would endorse Newt Gingrich today. Cain’s chief of staff Mark Block told ABC News: “I have no knowledge that Cain is endorsing anyone anytime soon.” And Cain’s deputy chief of staff Linda Hansen e-mailed: “Not true. I am not sure where they heard that. Seems the media, in general, has a problem discerning fact from gossip.” A source in Gingrich’s campaign also said a Cain endorsement was not expected today.

WHITE HOUSE COURTS BLACK VOTERS. Stung by summertime allegations that they neglected their bedrock African-American constituency, the White House and President Barack Obama’s reelection team have cranked up their outreach to black voters, selling the president’s first-term achievements as accomplishments that will pay long-term dividends for the black community,” Politico’s Joseph Williams writes. “Top administration aides and Cabinet officials have fanned out to black communities, touting those accomplishments — including health care reform, unemployment insurance extensions, public-education overhauls and programs encouraging minority entrepreneurship — and last month, they hosted a summit on African-American issues. As part of making its case, the White House prepared a 44-page report summarizing the president’s agenda for black America and has launched an electronic newsletter aimed at black lawmakers and staff in Congress, along with a companion link on the White House Web page. ‘We’ve been working so hard on our accomplishments,’ senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told POLITICO in an interview last week. ‘Now is the time to tell our story.’”

TRUMP: STILL OPEN TO RUNNING? USA Today’s Jackie Kucinich reports: Real estate mogul Donald Trump said he hopes to endorse a candidate for the Republican nomination within the next ‘three or four weeks’ but has not ruled out an independent bid if primary voters choose someone who can’t win. ‘If they pick somebody who I think can’t win and if they pick somebody who is, in my opinion, the wrong person … and if the economy continues to be bad, I might run as an independent,’ he told USA TODAY. He also says he has the money to do it on his own. Included in his new book, Time to Get Tough Making America #1 Again, are the financial disclosure forms that Trump would have filed if he had decided than $7 billion, the forms show. Included in his new book, Time to Get Tough Making America #1 Again, are the financial disclosure forms that Trump would have filed if he had decided to run for president this year. So how much is he worth? More than $7 billion, the forms show. ‘It’s hard for Trump to run and have somebody who is struggling say I’m going to send him $100 or $1,000,’ Trump said, referring to himself in the third person three times. ‘They’d say I love Trump, I’m going to vote for Trump but it’s even nicer that he doesn’t need my money to run for president this year.’”

@ billburton716 : Going to love watching the Trump debate tie Mitt Romney into a pretzel this week. Will he snub The Donald, risking his ire?

ABC DEBATE PREP: JOBLESS IN IOWA. ABC’s Shushannah Walshe and Yahoo! News’ Zachary Roth preview an issue that is likely to come up at this weekend’s GOP presidential debate, sponsored by ABC News, Yahoo, the Iowa Republican Party and the Des Moines Register: “The political class thinks of Iowa these days mostly as a staging ground for the long presidential campaign surrounding January’s first-in-the-nation caucuses (including Saturday’s Republican presidential debate at Drake University, sponsored by Yahoo! and ABC News). But for many people in Iowa, the most important day-to-day concern is the state’s struggle, along with the rest of the country, to throw off the effects of the Great Recession and the halting recovery that’s followed. Although low by national standards, Iowa’s official unemployment rate has spiked to 6 percent–around 99,000 people–from 3.7 percent in 2007, before the economic downturn began. And jobless spells are lasting longer than ever. Iowa’s long-term unemployment rate–the share of the 99,000 unemployed who have been out of work for 6 months or more–is 34 percent, nearly twice what it was before the downturn began.”



@ TPM : Democrats are gleeful at the prospect of running against Newt Gingrich:

@ mmckinnon : Newt has been a one-man think tank for over 30 years; Cain is one man who can tank a lead in less than 30 days.

@ IowaGOPer : Phyllis Schlafly’s endorsement should help Michele Bachmann some. Schlafly has been a frequent visitor to Iowa and is buds with Scheffler.

@ ron_fournier : Previewing Obama address: Is he TR 2.0?

@ pwire : Sen. Marco Rubio gets a book deal for memoir, to be published in the fall of 2012…



* Newt Gingrich meets with Donald Trump in New York City this morning and holds a media availability this afternoon at the Union League Club.

*Rick Santorum campaigns in Iowa, holding events in Sioux City, Le Mars, Sanborn and Sioux Center.

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