Newt in Virginia, Challenging Mitt to a Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 21 2011 8:24 PM

Newt in Virginia, Challenging Mitt to a Lincoln-Douglas Debate

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Newt Gingrich has a small problem. The commonwealth of Virginia has a key, March 6 primary coming up. According to the last Quinnipiac poll, if the election was held today, Gingrich would win the primary. Alas, Virginia has one of the country's stricter ballot standards, requiring candidates to submit at least 400 valid signatures from each of 11 congressional districts, and at least 10,000 signatures overall. Gingrich's campaign was foundering for so long that it wasn't even close to this. And Gingrich lives in Virginia!

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

This is why I joined 200-odd Republicans in the Key Bridge Marriott on Wednesday night, to see Gingrich return from an Iowa-New Hampshire junket for a less-than-24-hour swing. Gingrich's campaign asked supporters to help out today, with this rally as a kind of reward/pick-me-up. Tomorrow, he rallies in Richmond. The two cities are part of the the districts with the smallest numbers of Republicans. I talked to Ralph Hubbard, a volunteer with the Sully District GOP, who'd turned around 87 signatures in three districts.

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"Newt's the smartest guy in any room he enters," said Hubbard. "And he lets you know it!"

Gingrich took the stage, only a little late, with his wife Callista beside him. "We'll stay for pictures," he said, "if you want them for Christmas."

The candidate announced some good news: He would deliver "more than the necessary number of signatures in Richmond tomorrow." He was running a "people's campaign." You know who wasn't running a people's campaign? Mitt Romney.

"We're gonna challenge our friends, take down the negative ads, follow the Ronald Reagan 11th commandment, and let's spend the last days in Iowa on a positive message," he said. "If you have a Super PAC in your name, you are morally responsible for it."

Sounding a lot like a Common Cause staffer or a former senator from Wisconsin, Gingrich attacked Romney for having the gall to say his Super PAC ads were not anything he could talk about. "There's an old-fashioned American term for that," said Gingrich. "Not the one you're thinking of! The one my grandmother would have used is 'baloney.'" His action plan: "I've challenged Gov. Romney to meet me for 90 minutes in Iowa. Anywhere. Any time. Time keeper. No moderator. And we'll bring all of his negative ads, and show them for free, and have him explain them. We'll have him explain whether he likes the heat, and wants to stay in the kitchen."

It was the third time today that Gingrich had made the charge. With no debates left in Iowa, no free media -- no forum where he can be negative, incidentally -- he risks drowning under a gush of Super PAC ads, unable to press his advantage.

After this, he stuck around to pose for pictures, for Christmas.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.