Where's Newt? SC campaign stumbles plague Gingrich

AP News
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Posted: Jan 15, 2012 10:09 AM
Where's Newt? SC campaign stumbles plague Gingrich

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was greeted with a standing ovation when he was announced at a barbecue.

Too bad the former House speaker wasn't around to see it.

He was inexplicably missing, and his absence forced the event's moderator to ask awkwardly, "Can we check and see where the speaker is?"

It was just one in a string of clumsy, head-scratching events staged by the Gingrich campaign since the Republican primary moved to South Carolina, a state that the candidate says he must win if he wants a shot at the nomination.

The chain of slip-ups raises questions about the campaign's staffing and organizational skills, issues that have haunted Gingrich during the 2012 race.

Gingrich's campaign manager and other senior advisers resigned en masse in June after disagreeing with the candidate about the direction of the campaign. In a bureaucratic blunder, the campaign failed to meet the requirements to get Gingrich on the ballot in Virginia, where Gingrich lives.

If Gingrich's campaign survives next Saturday's South Carolina contest, the organizational challenges will only grow.

Florida, the next state on the primary calendar, is a complex, expensive and often unwieldy battleground. That vote is Jan. 31.

In at least one instance in South Carolina, Gingrich's campaign missteps have given his opponents a chance to take advantage.

With Gingrich running late to Friday's barbecue in Duncan, the only other candidate at the event stepped up and stepped in.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum worked the room with his wife, Karen, scoring valuable one-on-one time with the conservative and evangelical voters that both he and Gingrich are courting.

Gingrich also was running late to two events Thursday in Columbia, where he was being introduced by a former ally in the U.S. House, ex-Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts. Both times, Watts had to stall. At one point, Watts told the crowd that he only had three minutes of material prepared, but was going to need to talk far longer.

"I think I see the speaker's bus!" he finally exclaimed, a hint of relief in his voice.

Gingrich's choice of venue has also seemed off-base at times given the voting bloc he needs to win South Carolina.

One of the events where he kept Watts waiting was a home-ownership rally that appeared to be dominated by Democratic speakers and attendees.

On Saturday, Gingrich attended a question-and-answer session at a black church. Yet blacks made up just 2 percent of voters in the 2008 South Carolina GOP primary, according to exit polls.

Oh, and it looked like nobody checked to make sure the microphones were working at the church forum.

The first questioner, E.T. Williams, tried two different hand-held microphones, but neither worked. As staff scrambled to fix the problem, Williams, a Democrat and supporter of President Barack Obama _ joked that someone must not have wanted him to ask what turned out be critical questions of Gingrich.

Technical problems have plagued the Gingrich campaign during their telephone conferences with voters in other parts of the country.

A call scheduled for Saturday morning never took place. The dial-in number was invalid.

The campaign set up a new number for a Saturday night call with Florida voters. This time the number worked, and Gingrich was able to field questions from several voters.

But the call wasn't incident-free.

There was nothing but silence on the other end of the line when the moderator introduced the first two questioners. The issue was resolved, but not before Gingrich himself raised an important question.

"I wonder if we're having a technical problem," Gingrich said.