Republicans may have mixed feelings about the rise of Newt Gingrich in the presidential primary race, but they’re not alone. In two articles published today, readers either learn that Gingrich’s sudden move to the top of the polls has Democrats worried (Washington Post) or delighted (TPM-DC). Let’s start with the Post, which focuses on the worries of Democratic strategists who see real trouble in a Gingrich-Obama matchup:
But even as Gingrich’s sudden rise has filled many Obama supporters with cheer and some Republicans with dread, some Democratic strategists worry that the combative Gingrich presents some challenges for the Obama campaign that would not exist if Romney were the GOP candidate.
Where Romney, the former business executive and Massachusetts governor, poses a threat in his ability to win independents and conservative Democrats attracted to his image as an economic Mr. Fix-It, Gingrich could pursue a strategy that combines energizing the conservative base and chipping away Democratic support among Hispanics — an electoral formula that helped George W. Bush win in 2004.
Some Democrats believe that Gingrich, a hero of the conservative movement, would excite the party base more than a former liberal-state governor with a history of centrist views. And voters yearning for authenticity may be more open to the voluble and rumpled former House speaker, who frequently discusses his past mistakes and his recent conversion to Catholicism, than to a former equity-fund executive with perfect salt-and-pepper hair.
“He does not carry Wall Street baggage,” said one Democratic strategist working on the Obama reelection effort, speaking on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss his thinking. “He’s really smart. He’s definitely authentic.”
Perhaps most significantly, Gingrich has an extensive Hispanic outreach organization, which he has been building for years. Unlike anything in the Romney playbook, that network could give Gingrich a head start slicing into Obama’s base in key states in the Mountain West, where Hispanics are a fast-growing swing voting bloc. Polls show Hispanic voters, two-thirds of whom backed Obama in 2008, still favor the president — but GOP strategists believe that winning 40 percent of that vote could disrupt Obama’s electoral college strategy by putting Colorado, Arizona and Nevada in the Republican column.
Plus, as the Post’s Peter Wallsten and Anne Kornblut note, the prospect of having to debate Gingrich rather than Romney is, well, daunting. Not only does that put Obama in a potentially damaging environment, the inevitable refusal to engage in the three-hour open format Gingrich proposes will make it look as though Obama doesn’t have the confidence to match wits with Gingrich. It should be noted, however, that Romney has also performed very well in the current, deeply-flawed debate format, and in an election that will rest in large part on economic policy, Team Obama should be just as wary of tangling with Romney as they are with Gingrich.
TPM’s Brian Beutler reports that at least one Democrat thinks a Gingrich nomination would be terrific, though:
There’s no better illustration of how ecstatic Democrats are about Newt Gingrich leading the GOP primary pack than Nancy Pelosi’s strategic silence.
Pelosi knows more about Gingrich than perhaps any other major national political figure. She was a senior Democrat when Gingrich was House Speaker, served on the ethics committee that investigated Gingrich for tax cheating and campaign finance violations, and even cut a 2008 ad with him on the importance of addressing global climate change. …
Pelosi didn’t go into detail about Gingrich’s past transgressions, but she tipped her hand. “One of these days we’ll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich,” Pelosi said. “I know a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff.”
I’m not as familiar with House Ethics Committee rules as I should be, but I would presume that anything kept sealed from investigations are supposed to remain sealed. Threatening to leak sensitive investigation documents — especially on a selective basis — might form the basis of an ethics complaint in and of itself. That’s not to say that such a release would take a public, on-the-record form, of course. It seems inevitable that these documents will leak out when the timing most favors Barack Obama and the Democrats, and that Pelosi’s hands will be unstained by the leak — or at least would have been had she not made this threat now.
So much for that interlude on the love seat, huh?
The response from Gingrich to this threat should be a demand to unseal all of the records from that investigation, which did result in a $300,000 fine for submitting “inaccurate” information to the Ethics Committee about his tax-exempt organization and politicking. However, a subsequent IRS investigation cleared Gingrich of any wrongdoing, which somewhat undermines Pelosi’s threat. Early exposure would defuse that threat entirely and allow Gingrich to take the high road, while emphasizing that all of this took place over a decade ago. If the House won’t release the documents after Gingrich calls for it, then any subsequent leak will look mighty partisan and unfair, and could run the risk of a big backlash against Democrats.
In short, it’s an unpredictable, combustible combination. While Pelosi might feel thrilled by the prospect of a Gingrich-Obama contest, there are plenty of reasons why other Democrats don’t feel anywhere near as sanguine about it. Besides, if the debate comes down to accusations of financial impropriety, then Republicans have a card or two they can play as well:
Jon Corzine, former CEO of MF Global, has given tens of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party in recent months, putting Democratic lawmakers in awkward positions ahead of Corzine’s subpoenaed appearance before a House committee next week.
The House Agriculture Committee wants Corzine to explain the financial collapse of MF Global and what may have happened to clients’ investments. …
Corzine gave $15,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Sept. 28 and $30,800 to the Democratic National Committee in June.
While he has contributed to Democrats such as Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and George Miller (D-Calif.), Corzine has become a political liability to his former allies on the Hill.
That didn’t happen 14 years ago, either.
Update: Newt Gingrich fires back at Pelosi for her threat — and calls for an ethics probe of Pelosi if she makes good on it:
First of all I’d like to thank Speaker Pelosi for what I regard as an early Christmas gift. If she’s suggesting she’s gonna use material she developed while she was on the ethics committee, that is a fundamental violation of the rules of the House and I would hope members would immediately file charges against her the second she does it.
Gingrich’s appreciation for this “early Christmas gift” underscores how this threat exposes just how political her ethics probe at the time actually was. The Right Scoop has the full statement.