The elephant costume travels with the Gingriches on their book-tour-slash-traveling-film-festival-slash-presidential-campaign, in a special trunk that Callista checks at the front of the plane. An aide said she calls on her network of friends across the country to wear the costume at events, where the elephant stands, silently grinning, behind the prolific couple as they sign and chat. One has to remind oneself: This man used to be speaker of the House.
The Gingrich campaign has been through a lot over the past several months. In June, a high-profile crackup resulted in the departure of most of the staff. Top strategists were dismayed by, among other things, the Gingriches' decision to go on a Mediterranean cruise mid campaign.
But Gingrich professed to be liberated by the disappearance of the squabbling bureaucracy that had formed around him. (Many of the staffers who left went to work for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, about which one Gingrichite mused: "I think they're doing just as good a job for the governor as they did for Newt.")
Gingrich's latest financial report shows his campaign still mired in debt. But the campaign is growing again after its months of retrenchment, said R.C. Hammond, who, in the spirit of the leaner, meaner Gingrich 2.0 effort, serves simultaneously as media spokesman, traveling advance man and New Hampshire director.
After the implosion, Gingrich "trimmed down and figured out what needed to be done," said Hammond, who said the payroll, once around 40, will be up to 18 by the end of the week. Adam Waldeck, the campaign's national coalitions director, has redeployed from Virginia to South Carolina, and Allen Olson, founder of the Columbia, S.C., tea party, has left that post to work for Gingrich full time, Hammond said.
Later this week, the campaign plans to announce another staffer on the ground in New Hampshire and multiple hires in Iowa, building out its early-state network. Gingrich plans to travel to northeastern Iowa next week.
Meanwhile, national polling shows Gingrich on a gradual upward trajectory, which his camp professes to prefer to a meteoric rise and which it attributes to his crowd-pleasing performances in recent debates.
"We knew it was going to be about restoring credibility, and that's what he did," Hammond said. "He went out and used the debates to show that he's the candidate who meets the needs of the time. He has the political courage and fortitude to actually force Washington to change things. There's not a lot of people on that stage with a record of actually shaking up Washington."
In particular, Gingrich has made a franchise of going after the debate moderators, though Hammond notes he does not do so indiscriminately: "We actually thought Wolf Blitzer did a really good job. We encouraged CNN to keep using him" as a moderator, Hammond said. Tuesday's CNN debate here is being moderated by Anderson Cooper.
David Baugh, a 51-year-old I.T. worker from the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, came out to get his Gingrich book signed and wants him to be president, though Baugh is not convinced Gingrich can win.
"He was big back in the 90s," said Baugh, who thinks Gingrich ought to remind voters he was responsible for abolishing the national 55-mph speed limit. "I like the way he ran things. He got things done."
Image credit: Reuters/Jim Young