By Bob Cusack - 12/04/11 04:45 PM EST
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has Mitt Romney worried, but to defeat the former Massachusetts governor, he must clear major hurdles.
Gingrich’s vision for the future, his superb debating skills and his bashing of the media has won over many in the GOP base. Polls show that Gingrich is surging in the early states, and his timing could not be better.
In the 2007-2008 Republican primary, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) started to mount his comeback around Thanksgiving. Like McCain, Gingrich is peaking at the right time.
Can Gingrich win the GOP nomination? Anything is possible in politics and Gingrich's numbers continue to rise. Yet, Romney is still the betting favorite. Intrade.com, a predictions market, pegs Romney’s chances of capturing the Republican nod at 45 percent while Gingrich is second at 35 percent.
The ex-Speaker’s chances will improve if he can clear the five obstacles standing in his way.
1. The Gingrich ego. Anyone who runs for president has a huge ego, but there is a perception that Gingrich’s ego is off the charts. Cartoonists are already having a field day with Gingrich’s opinion of himself.
It’s a good sign for a campaign that its candidate is the smartest guy in the room. But it’s bad news if the candidate lets everyone know it. Simply put, Gingrich gets under some people’s skin. He’s a great talker, though not a great listener — an essential attribute for a president.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who served in the House from 1981 through 1996, told The Hill this week that Gingrich had an “ability to get people together and settle an issue by sheer will or intellectual dominance.”
Roberts acknowledged Gingrich has a “very strong personality, so maybe he rubbed somebody the wrong way.”
He has rubbed many people in the nation’s capital the wrong way. Romney has 47 endorsements from congressional Republicans; Gingrich has six. Endorsements in presidential races are overrated, though they are important.
The party's kingmakers are not in love with Romney, but they may unite to get behind him to thwart Gingrich's bid.
To defeat Romney, Gingrich must exhibit some humbleness. Republican voters will not nominate a candidate who is seen as arrogant.
2. Immigration. This issue represented the beginning of the end of Perry’s campaign. Gingrich is well aware that in politics, how you say something is a lot more important than what you are saying.
Gingrich and Perry are not hard-liners on immigration. But Perry suggested some in the party who disagree with him on immigration are heart-less. Gingrich, in contrast, handled the situation much better during a recent debate. A big difference between the two is that Perry is against a border fence while Gingrich just signed a pledge that he would finish one by 2013.
Regardless, Romney is to the right of both of them on this contentious issue, and that is a huge asset in the GOP primary.
3. Baggage. Fair or not, this is a word that is associated with Gingrich’s run. Gingrich has admitted cheating on his then-wife during the impeachment of then-President Clinton. And the former Speaker's firm reportedly raked in $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, a boogeyman to the right. He was also admonished by the House Ethics Committee in 1997. News stories about his wife Callista Gingrich spending $500,000 at Tiffany’s and his campaign staffers walking out on him earlier this year were devastating to his campaign.
Despite all this, Gingrich's campaign is red-hot, though his competitors are going to intensify their attacks over the next month.
5. Organization and money. Romney’s advantage here cannot be overstated. At the end of September, Gingrich’s campaign was in debt while Romney had more than $14.6 million cash on hand. Without doubt, Gingrich’s fundraising has benefited since his recent surge. But he’ll never be in Romney’s league in this category.
It’s worth noting that Mike Huckabee did not have Romney’s resources in 2008, but stunned him in Iowa. The triumph in Iowa was the high point of Huckabee’s campaign, which never had enough resources to nab the nomination.