"Early on, it looked as if [Jon] Huntsman and Perry were putting together quite good field operations, but lately, I see a significant amount of activity out of the Gingrich side," said Robert Cahaly, an Atlanta-based consultant who works extensively in South Carolina. Gingrich, he said, is touring the state, drawing big crowds and hiring staffers with Tea Party credentials.
"Rick Perry was the natural" to win over the state, said Clemson University political scientist David Woodard, also a GOP political consultant. But now that Perry has fizzled, Gingrich -- who is sort of a fellow Southerner, having represented Georgia in Congress, though lacking a Southern accent -- may have the best shot, he said.
Woodard recalls getting Clemson to approve for college credit a course Gingrich had come up with, "Renewing American Civilization," in 1993. When word got out that a state school was propagating the ideas of a leading national Republican, a firestorm of controversy ensued. Gingrich, rather than downplay the furor, came to Clemson to speak to the students himself.
It was, as Woodard put it, "a typical Newt sort of thing." And for a while this summer, Gingrich for President appeared to be just another one of the pet projects the former speaker is perpetually concocting.
He traveled to states with no say in the Republican nominating process, signing copies of his latest book or screening his documentary about Pope John Paul II. Most notoriously, he went on a Mediterranean cruise just weeks before the Iowa straw poll. That was the last straw for most of his staff at the time, precipitating the implosion that led many to conclude his campaign was over. In the straw poll, he placed eighth.
"A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught," then-Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler wrote during an even earlier rocky stretch for the campaign. "But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won't be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces." A few weeks after he wrote that, Tyler, too, left the Gingrich campaign.
These days, Gingrich casts even the cruise as a wise decision: "I'm very glad we went to Greece," he said in a recent interview with Newsmax. "You look at the crisis in Greece right now, and I can tell you having been there, having talked to people, I have a much better understanding about what's happening in Europe."
Iowa-based conservative radio host Steve Deace said in an interview that unlike Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, Gingrich doesn't have to win in Iowa, just show he's in contention.
"Iowa is just a playoff game; South Carolina is the Super Bowl," Deace said. "Newt just has to get into the playoffs in Iowa. South Carolina organizationally is much more important for him."