REPUBLICAN RACE

Gingrich Draws Crowds, Huntsman Doesn’t

For all the focus on the punditocracy, it helps when actual voters turn out

It’s perfectly clear that Newt Gingrich is toast, history, kaput, right?I mean, he infuriated conservatives by trashing “right-wing social engineering” and spent the rest of the week apologizing and explaining that he was or was not referring to the Paul Ryan plan or something else.But I’m not joining the obituary writers. Perhaps because I remember reading too many stories in 2007 about how John McCain was finished, before he limped his way to the GOP nomination.Newt has dug himself a hole, but even with pundits shoveling dirt on top of him, he could climb out.What’s striking is that the former speaker is drawing big crowds in Iowa. That may merely reflect his celebrity; I saw him get a rock-star reception at CPAC. Or it could be that Gingrich generates a certain degree of grass-roots enthusiasm, even as the commentators and establishment types view him as an unguided missile.Gingrich himself may lean toward that view, judging by some comments he made Friday in Waterloo, Iowa: “It's going to take a while for the news media to realize that you're covering something that happens once or twice in a century, a genuine grass-roots campaign of very big ideas,” he said. “I expect it to take a while for it to sink in.”This may reflect an inflated view of his candidacy, but it’s also true that Gingrich does traffic in big ideas. He just stumbles when he tries to explain them to lesser mortals.Contrast Gingrich’s rough ride with the media treatment of Jon Huntsman, which has been quite respectful. The consensus is that he’s a long shot for the nomination but a smart and worthy candidate.So how is the former ambassador doing on the trail? Atlantic’s Josh Green has this report from New Hampshire:“If his debut last night as an unofficial presidential candidate is any indication, Jon Huntsman will have to work hard to win over New Hampshire voters -- not because he served in the Obama administration or holds moderate views, but because he'll have to crawl over swarms of reporters just to get to them. Billed as a low-key ‘meet and greet’ at Jesse's Restaurant, the media that showed up easily outnumbered the diners. It was a little ridiculous. While introducing Huntsman, the event's host had to ask reporters to step back so that actual voters could hear him speak.”Green says Huntsman presented himself as “pleasant and reasonable… steered clear of specifics and displayed a diplomat's talent for speaking well without saying much.”Reporters like pleasant and reasonable and an absence of inflammatory language. But if the voters aren’t showing up—and yes, it’s early—that’s not a good sign.When George Stephanopoulos asked Huntsman the “why you?” question, he got such language as “we are at a very serious inflection point in terms of where this country goes.” Zzzz.Excitement is an important part of any presidential campaign. We’ll see how much Tim Pawlenty generates when he becomes a declared candidate on Monday. I would guess Michele Bachmann will whip up more when she, as everyone now expects, jumps into this race.