Exposing organisational skills that might fall short of what you would expect from someone aspiring to be president, Newt Gingrich could be found navigating the highways of Virginia yesterday on the hunt for enough signatures to get him on the ballot for the state's primary election in early March.
The dash to Virginia was apparently unavoidable for the former Speaker of the House when his campaign belatedly realised that the deadline for submitting papers to be on the state’s ballot was 5pm last night and that it didn’t have the 10,000 valid voters’ signatures that was required.
Mr Gingrich should have been campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two states that will shortly kick off the process of selecting a Republican nominee to take on Barack Obama next year. Recently he has been leading the pack in some polls but his campaign is a famously ramshackle affair. By contrast, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor, has a formidable ground organisation in all the important primary states.
Aides to Mr Gingrich buttonholed supporters attending two last-minute rallies in Virginia to collect the signatures and signalled they would have easily reached the 10,000 goal by the deadline. Virginia is one of a large group of states set to vote on so-called Super Tuesday on 6 March and not being on the ballot would not be an option for any candidate still standing at that point in the primary process.
The detour came as Mr Gingrich has seen a slipped in the polls in the wake of negative attacks, notably on the airwaves in Iowa, from the other candidates and political action groups supporting them. Most relentless has been Mr Romney, who has ignored taunts that he should end negative advertising. “This is politics,” he replied. “And if you can't stand the heat in this little kitchen, wait until Obama’s Hell’s Kitchen turns up the heat.”
Mr Romney displayed his non-compassionate side also this week by saying that if elected he would deport an uncle of President Obama. He was referring to Onyango Obama, 67, a half brother of the president’s Kenyan father, who was arrested for drunk-driving in Massachusetts in August and who may not be in the country legally.
The sniping between Messrs Romney and Gingrich showed no signs of easing. Responding to the quip about heat and kitchens, Mr Gingrich suggested that he and the former governor have a 90-minute face-off debate in Iowa which holds its caucus voting on 3 January. Mr Romney just as quickly declined the invitation, however.
Both men are eyeing a late surge of support in Iowa for Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who has a fierce but limited following because of his strong libertarian views.
If, as some pollsters predict, Mr Paul actually wins the Iowa caucus, then it may be to the advantage of Mr Romney, who will be glad to see Mr Gingrich wounded. Mr Paul, because of the extremeness of some of his views, notably on foreign policy, is not considered a long-term risk by the Romney team, however.