The day after Newt Gingrich dominated Iowa caucus headlines by choking up while discussing his late mother—a welcome respite from anti-Gingrich television ads about seven-figure payments by Freddie Mac and global warming commercials with Nancy Pelosi—the candidate was decidedly dry-eyed.
He may have been whining on Saturday afternoon—about those above-mentioned attack ads, aired by rivals Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and their super-PAC supporters—but he definitely wasn’t crying.
“I have no idea,” the former speaker of the House answered when I asked if his emotional moment has had an impact on the Republican presidential race. “I was talking with [pollster] Frank Luntz”—his interlocutor at Friday’s Moms Matter event—“about my mother. I wasn’t trying to figure out how to have an impact on the campaign.”
Newt and Callista Gingrich arrived in their big blue bus—with a photo of Newt’s giant head plastered on the side—at the Coca-Cola bottling plant in the farming town of Atlantic. With his wife next to him on the podium, nodding and clapping and chuckling at all the right moments, he held a town meeting with about 100 Iowans in a warehouse stacked high with soft-drink cases.
The consensus seemed to be that Gingrich’s waterworks were a net positive.
“It shows he’s a real person,” said Carolyn Masmar, the mother of a college-age son, and the owner of a kitchen design business. She said she’s interested in Gingrich but has yet to decide whom she’ll caucus for on Tuesday. “You’d hope it’s not a publicity stunt. It was a nice moment, but it’s not going to sway me one way or the other.”
Nancy Pellett, who raises corn and soybeans on her family farm, also approved of Gingrich’s moist display. “He’s a human being—a very emotional human being,” she said. “Will it help him? I don’t know.”
Earlier, at the Farmer’s Kitchen, a diner where Newt and Callista had lunch with his two daughters, his two grandchildren and a smattering of campaign aides, 89-year-old Warren Hutchinson also lauded the candidate’s lachrymosity.
“That’s not all bad—it shows a little compassion,” Hutchinson said, though he was clearly more interested in Gingrich’s verbal abilities. “I think he is the only one who can debate Obama and knock him on his ass.”
At the bottling plant, Gingrich took the opportunity to complain repeatedly about his opponents’ barrage of attack ads, which effectively dislodged him from his perch as the Iowa frontrunner and sent his poll numbers tumbling. According to the latest Des Moines Register poll Gingrich is now languishing in fourth place, with just 12 percent of the vote. He was especially aggrieved about Romney’s spots.
“Those ads are dishonest and he knows it,” Gingrich told reporters. “Some are actually false and he knows it. And we’re not doing anything like that. On the other hand, to compare the fact that he signed tax-paid abortion in Romneycare and I opposed it strikes me as a legitimate public policy disagreement.”
Another humanizing moment: Gingrich had his young grandson Robert Cushman supervise his press availability and shout out “Last question!” — displacing the regular (and less cute) campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond.
But lest anyone believe that Gingrich has gone soft, the candidate added: “This is the opening three minutes of the Superbowl. We’re learning a lot about what our opponents will do. They are nastier and more dishonest than I expected, so we’ll have to make some adjustments.”