Do you know what Newt Gingrich was doing while Nevada was suffering through the foreclosure crisis? Cashing in, of course!
That’s the message of one aggressive ad running on conservative talk radio here in Nevada, paid for by Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. It marks a change in tone for Romney, who seemed to believe up until very recently that it wasn’t presidential to attack one’s opponents directly.
Of course, the attack doesn’t make much sense: Yes, Gingrich did accept $1.6 million in consulting fees from Freddie Mac, one of two government-chartered outfits that backed risky home mortgage loans.
But Gingrich wasn’t the guy making decisions about the loans, and he was no longer in Congress when lawmakers in 1999 repealed certain portions of the Glass-Steagall Act, which eliminated the separation between investment and commercial banking. That vote had much more to do with the mortgage crisis than a consulting contract. Linking Gingrich’s fees with Nevada home foreclosures is something of a fallacy.
But that ad shows Romney’s leaving nothing to chance when it comes to winning Saturday’s Republican caucus, a goal for which he’s been planning since he took 51 percent of the vote in the 2008 caucus. And with Gingrich (and former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum) just gearing up their campaigns in the Silver State, it will take a miracle for them to catch Romney.
In fact, it would be impressive for them to catch Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who came in a distant second four years ago but who maintains a devoted following here. Paul’s campaign has been active in Nevada longer than either Gingrich’s or Santorum’s; and neither man has been able to raise as much money as Romney. (All four candidates have scheduled time to campaign in Nevada ahead of Saturday’s caucusing.)
That doesn’t mean they’re absent, however: A pro-Gingrich ad hails him as a true conservative as contrasted with “mushy Massachusetts moderate” Romney. In that ad, in the exasperation of some conservative talk radio hosts and in Gingrich’s own words, a disdain for Romney is unmistakable.
Campaigning in Florida before Tuesday’s primary, Gingrich blasted Romney for being willing to sling falsehoods on the campaign trail, and Republican leaders for letting it happen: “I think the Republican establishment believes it’s OK to say and do virtually anything to stop a genuine insurgency from winning because they are very afraid of losing control of the old order,” he said.
It’s not entirely clear how Romney — who held political office for only four years as governor of Massachusetts — is the “old order,” but he’s certainly dominating Nevada. His fund-raising advantage is everywhere — when the Republicans finally launched their official caucus website on Tuesday, it was covered with ads encouraging visitors to “Caucus for Mitt.”
His high-profile supporters are everywhere, too: Romney has Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, Congressmen Mark Amodei and Joe Heck and former Congresswoman Barbara Vucanovich on his side. On Tuesday, Krolicki and Vucanovich held a press conference call to underscore a key Romney theme: Gingrich is an erratic, arrogant leader who lurches from big idea to big idea before imploding under the weight of them all.
Let’s not forget the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members overwhelmingly support their fellow Mormon, Romney, and whose participation in voting is legendary. It’s estimated that fully a quarter of 2008 caucus-goers were Mormon in 2008, and if that’s repeated this year, it’s another brick in a solid Romney wall.
Message: Nevada is Romney country, and it’s going to take a lot more than a super-PAC, a few days of campaigning and an alliterative put-down to wrest it from his grasp.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.