CHICAGO, IL -- Newt Gingrich prides himself in running an unconventional presidential campaign and the man who currently oversees the team’s daily operations of that campaign fits this “anti-establishment” mold perfectly.
Patrick Millsaps, 39, Gingrich’s chief of staff, explains that he “stumbled into working in politics” a few years ago. He was brought on as the campaign’s top aide in late December amid an implosion in Gingrich’s numbers heading into the Iowa caucuses – the first contest that would launch two and a half months of voting.
“I got involved in politics by happenstance; I needed a job out of college,” said Millsaps, who graduated from Samford University in 1995 with a degree in Psychology after a short stint as a preacher. (He remains a licensed Baptist Minister who can still marry and bury people.)
Growing up in Marietta, GA, Millsaps was a constituent of the Republican lawmaker who would become his future boss – former House Speaker Gingrich. But the two men only met once, in 1994, as Gingrich worked the ropeline following an event. Eighteen years later, Millsaps, a lifelong Georgian, made his interest in helping the campaign known.
“The one type of race I have never been involved in as a volunteer was a presidential race,” Millsaps recalls telling one of Gingrich’s close advisors, Randy Evans, in early 2011. “I told him if there is ever a way I can help in a meaningful way, let me know.”
Nine months later, Evans did just that. Millsaps was contacted by the Gingrich campaign the day after Christmas (as he was about to take a week vacation), and flew to Iowa first thing to start as deputy legal counsel.
“One day he was in a court room in Southern Georgia, the next he was smack in the middle of the GOP primary. He didn’t blink,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said.
Having graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law in 2000, Millsaps has been practicing law ever since.
“In 1996, I worked as a deputy political director for a United States Senate candidate in Georgia,” he said. “I decided to go to law school after we lost the primary and after that I decided I was just done with politics.”
Moving to Camilla, GA – a small town in the Southwest section of the state – back in 2004, Millsaps started his own law practice while his wife, Elizabeth, opened a pharmacy. He continued to stay active in politics here and there, helping his former law school friends organize events for politicians near him, while also raising his three small daughters.
After working with the Gingrich campaign for just more than a month, the speaker promoted Millsaps to chief of staff when their charter plane landed in Reno, NV in early February. In this new role, Millsaps changed the organizational structure of the campaign and even created internal teams to help the process flow better.
“I think I brought a perspective that was very non-DC – there is nothing further from Washington, D.C. than Southwest Georgia,” he said.
This is the type of campaign Gingrich is trying to run, according to Millsaps, who admitted he thought he would be off the campaign after South Carolina. “It has been a benefit that I have worked on enough campaigns that I know my way around campaigns but it has also been a benefit that I bring a different perspective to the table,” he said.
“Patrick has really done a great job at doing a lot with limited resources in such a short amount of time,” Hammond said.
Now, Millsaps and the speaker work together very closely every day and have even become friends, complementing each other with their traits along the way.
“Speaker Gingrich is the one who came up with $2.50 gasoline. Nobody saw gasoline as the big issue. He has the big idea of how he wants his campaign to go and what we need to be talking about and then I am the one who tries to figure out what kind of assets we have and how we get the message out,” Millsaps said.
Millsaps described himself as the campaign’s “problem solver” and noted that the campaign always had a great product in its candidate – they just needed someone to push that material out the door to voters.
Vowing to only work for politicians he truly believes in, Millsaps says Gingrich has really struck him as a different type of politicians and doesn’t see this type of campaign happening again.
“Newt is the most intellectually curious person I have ever met,” he said. “I have met a lot of politicians that are just so full of themselves that you will never get a word in edgewise but Newt is the opposite of this.”
No matter what happens in the next few weeks, the chief of staff says he is in for the long haul.
“I am one of these people who believes that God has a plan for me and I am just going to see what happens next. I will stay with the campaign and hopefully take it all the way to Tampa and then see what happens,” Millsaps said. “I learned a long time ago that the people who try to plan their lives out seem to be disappointed.”