John Baer: Newt’s ready to pull out the stops

Posted: January 10, 2012

THE GOP PRESIDENTIAL race Wednesday hits South Carolina, where Newt Gingrich has a plan for attacking Mitt Romney that resembles a murder-suicide pact.

It's "I'll get Mitt even it means that I go down, too."

It's desperate, hard-core politics; at least Newt's in an appropriate state.

It was first to secede from the Union and among the last to certify the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote - in 1969. (The amendment was ratified in 1920 by the required 36 states.)

In 2000, South Carolina derailed John McCain with a phony poll asking voters if they'd be less inclined to vote for McCain if they knew he fathered an illegitimate black child.

(He has an adopted daughter from Bangladesh.)

And it still flies the Confederate flag on the grounds of the state capitol.

(Newt's all for it.)

So, you know, it should be fun down there.

Friends of Newt are welcoming Mitt with TV ads portraying his touted biz experience as nothing less than destructive greed that drove people from jobs and homes and lined the pockets of rich investors.

"For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began when Mitt Romney came to town," is the ominously narrated tag line promoting a documentary, "When Mitt Romney Came to Town," on Romney's reign at the investment firm Bain Capital.

Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court and Newt's buddy, billionaire Vegas casino-owner Sheldon Adelson, more than $3 million worth of TV ads using parts of the doc will wash over South Carolina between now and its primary Jan. 21.

In a state with fewer people (4.6 million) than live in the Philly metro area, that buys lots of eye time.

Romney made reference to the attacks Tuesday night at his New Hampshire victory rally: "This is such a mistake for our party and our country." He called the effort to smear his career "a resentment of success."

Question is: Who benefits from Newt's bombs?

Almost any diehard Democrat will say President Obama, because Mitt's the likely nominee and this softens him up for Obama's strategy of pitting the masses against the wealthy.

But there's a counter-argument.

When I ask MSNBC political analyst Joe Watkins, he says, "The upside for Romney is that getting the kitchen sink thrown at him now helps strengthen him for the fall election."

Maybe so.

The more-immediate question is whether these anti-Mitt missiles help Newt or blow up in his face.

"I think it's likely to damage Romney some," says Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report, "but not help Gingrich at all. The traditional result of negative campaigning is the attacker damages the target but also damages himself."

GOP consultant Chris Mottola, who worked on the presidential runs of Bob Dole, George W. Bush and McCain but has no candidate in the current field, agrees with Rothenberg.

"I don't think it helps him [Newt] at all," says Mottola. "Gingrich lost control of his narrative . . . and Romney is positioned to outresource everybody else the rest of the way."

This is clearly Newt's personal payback for attack ads aired against Newt in Iowa by friends of Mitt.

But Romney leads in current South Carolina polls. He's endorsed by Gov. Nikki Haley and by the state's '08 primary winner, McCain.

Newt's endorsed by Todd Palin.

I don't suggest it's impossible to slow Romney down, down south. He's capable of a gaffe or two. But he's positioned with money and momentum to win the state, a state that's picked the ultimate GOP nominee in every election since it began hosting primaries in 1980.

On the other hand, the official state amphibian (I'm not making this up) is the spotted salamander. That's pretty much a newt. Might mean something.

For recent columns, go to

philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at www.philly.com/BaerGrowls.

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