WOLFEBORO, N.H. -- Saturday evening is a big night for Newt Gingrich. Not only is it just three days before the New Hampshire primary, it also marks the first presidential debate since the barrage of negative attacks against the former House speaker in Iowa kicked into high gear.
“It’s fight night. We’re excited,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told a small group of reporters following a Gingrich event here.
Standing in front of a large military tank with a fighter jet hanging from above, Gingrich wasted no time before taking a jab at GOP rival Mitt Romney.
“I look at this tank lovingly because I remember Michael Dukakis,” he said as he started his speech inside The Wright Museum on WWII history. (Dukakis was the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, who was featured in a picture riding in a tank.) “And it’s just a reminder that governors of Massachusetts don’t always make good presidential candidates.”
Gingrich gave one of his most energetic speeches on the trail Saturday afternoon before a crowd of at least 400 people. And as a historian, the museum was an ideal setting for him. This impassioned townhall performance from the former Speaker comes has he is struggling in recent polls in New Hampshire and nationally. He has to finish strong here and win South Carolina to have a chance at becoming the Republican nominee.
“We have 2 weeks to clarify in South Carolina that he [Romney] is a Massachusetts Moderate and that he has a whole series of experiences and values that are the opposite of the South Carolina Republican Party,” Gingrich told reporters following his event in the same resort town as Romney’s summer home. “If we succeed in doing that he won’t win in South Carolina. If we don’t succeed, he might win.”
Debates have always been a strong suit for Gingrich but the last presidential debate was more than three weeks ago on Dec. 15 in Sioux City, Iowa. Since then, he has moved far from front-runner status, finishing just fourth in the Iowa caucuses earlier this week. Potential good news for the Gingrich campaign? Two debates in 12 hours this weekend.
Gingrich told reporters after one of his largest events since his poll numbers began to drop that he will prepare for this debate as he has all along.
“Drink a diet coke, call Maggie and Robert [his grandchildren] and get their sophisticated coaching advice,” he said, adding he will try to remember the tips of “slower, smile, shorter, clearer.”
Gingrich said not to doubt his strategy of not talking to paid consultants before debates as he has “two debate coaches with a winning streak.”
Even though it’s “fight night” for the campaign, Gingrich may not directly attack Romney – at least not by the way he defines going negative on an opponent.
“I'm not going to go after Mitt Romney. I may define the reality of a Reagan conservative and a Massachusetts moderate,” he said. “I don’t think telling the truth in a happy and pleasant way comes across as negative, it may come across as the truth … may have to ask Gov. Romney how he feels describing accurately his record.”