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Gingrich's Iowa Crash Has GOP Base Hunting for Next Anti-Romney

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He made a big deal about how he would make the Virginia ballot. Then, when he failed, his "organization" compared its organization blunder to Pearl Harbor, in a bizarre statement from campaign director Michael Knull:

"Newt and I agreed that the analogy is December 1941. We have experienced an unexpected set-back, but we will re-group and re-focus with increased determination, commitment and positive action. Throughout the next months there will be ups and downs; there will be successes and failures; there will be easy victories and difficult days -- but in the end we will stand victorious."

Apart from the generalized lack of perspective, which has characterized Gingrich's campaign from the start, that statement is unlikely to do the candidate much good in a state where elderly voters form a significant portion of his potential "base."

But where Gingrich really blew things up was with his announcement that he would run a write-in campaign in Virginia.

There is a long history of write-in candidacies shaking up Republican primary races; write-in contenders as diverse as Dwight Eisenhower and Henry Cabot Lodge have actually beat established candidates. It would have made a lot of sense for Gingrich to press just such a boundary-busting strategy.

Unfortunately for him, he did not check it out. In addition to its high bar for ballot access, Virginia does not allow write-in votes in primaries. Ultimately, the Virginia fiasco will be a mere footnote to the story of the 2012 presidential race.

But it provides a powerful signal for Republicans who want to mount a serious presidential campaign: Newt Gingrich cannot get his act together. Indeed, says Romney, Virginia reminds us less of Pearl Harbor than of "Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory" -- a reference to a classic TV show in which the comedienne was overwhelmed by a bobbon-spewing assembly line.

As for Democrats, they're more than happy to help Newt.

The former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party will be helping a conservative group try to overturn the barriers to Virginia write-in runs.

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Republican stalwarts are likely to recognize why that is happening. And that will write the story of this week in Iowa. Gingrich will finally campaign hard in the state. But even as he does so, his numbers will slip.

The question now is whether he finishes in the top three or out of contention.

It is a real possibility that Gingrich will fall to fourth place, or worse, because he has never taken Iowa or any other state on the Republican primary calendar seriously.

Who might finish ahead of him? Santorum and Bachmann are dramatically better organized in Iowa, and Perry has a lot more money.

Evangelicals could go for any of the three -- not out of love but out of desperation to remain politically relevant. That was evidenced Wednesday, when Pastor Andrew Steven, author of the book Making A Strong Christian Nation, announced: "Voting for Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum will help bring God's economic recovery to the USA because they best stand for God."

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There seems to be some attempt in Iowa to get evangelicals to coalesce around Santorum, the former senator and career candidate who is comically being referred to as a "fresh face." What that really means is that Santorum has not been treated seriously enough up to this point to have been subjected to significant scrutiny.

Santorum will never be the GOP nominee. But he may yet get his 15 minutes of fame because, as an anti-Romney, Santorum is credible. And that's a strength that Newt Gingrich will have a hard time claiming after his botched response to "Pearl Harbor."

Cross-posted from The Nation

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

Nichols writes about politics (more...)

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