“Is Newt really that weak on the ground in Iowa?”

December 9, 2011

By: Byron York

There’s a lot of commentary suggesting that despite his lead in the polls, Newt Gingrich is headed for trouble in Iowa because he doesn’t have the organization needed to win the state’s famously grassroots caucuses.

It’s true that Gingrich, who was among the ranks of the also-rans just weeks ago, doesn’t have much of an organization — or, more accurately, is just now, 25 days before the caucuses, starting to build an organization. But veterans of Iowa point to another factor that’s just as important: showing up.

According to the Des Moines Register’s count of candidate appearances in Iowa, Gingrich has been in the state more than any candidates other than Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann. Gingrich has been in Iowa 50 days this year, according to the paper’s count. Mitt Romney, who started the campaign trying to downplay Iowa’s importance and is now working hard in the state, has been in Iowa eight days.

The totals for all candidates are: Santorum 83 days, Bachmann 63 days, Gingrich 50 days, Ron Paul 38 days, Herman Cain 36 days, Rick Perry 17 days, Mitt Romney eight days, and Jon Huntsman one day.

But what about events? Has Gingrich just dropped into Iowa, signed a few books, and moved on? It turns out Gingrich also has had the most events in Iowa other than Santorum and Bachmann. The total numbers of events are: Santorum 236, Bachmann 126, Gingrich 90, Paul 78, Cain 69, Perry 32, Romney 18, and Huntsman one.

Gingrich’s 50 days in Iowa is “a good amount of time,” says Chip Saltsman, who managed Mike Huckabee’s come-from-behind campaign in the 2008 caucuses. “I truly believe in Iowa there’s no substitute for being there.” On the other hand, Saltsman continues, “Just like we saw with Chris Dodd and Joe Biden on the Democratic side in ’08, that’s not the only piece of the equation. You’ve got to have something to sell. And what supersedes everything this year is who [voters] believe can beat Obama.”

On that key question, Gingrich has recently eclipsed Romney in Iowa polls. There’s no guarantee he’ll stay in first place, but if Gingrich falls, it will likely not be because he has spent too little time on the ground in Iowa.