Newt Gingrich Suddenly Needs to Have a Front-runner’s Campaign Staff

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US Republican presidential hopeful former House Speaker Newt Gingrich addresses the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington on October 7, 2011.    AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images/2011 AFP

Now that Newt Gingrich has suddenly swept into first place in the GOP primary, far ahead of Mitt Romney, his campaign is scrambling desperately to catch up with its own growth spurt. The Gingrich operation, which was pulled down to bare-bones after a series of high-profile defections last spring, looks especially rickety compared to, say, Romney's operation, which is even better oiled than his hair.

The Gingrich campaign only just got an Iowa headquarters this week; would-be donors there had trouble even finding someone to contact about getting involved. You barely need two hands to count the number of core Gingrich staffers; Newt gets policy advice from "friends." "If we want to talk about tax reform, he’ll get Art Laffer and several other economists to give feedback," spokesman R.C. Hammond  told Politico. "One, it saves us a tremendous amount of money and, two, the people around him have been around for a while." Gingrich often writes his own memos and e-mails to top supporters — which he probably enjoys! — but which isn't sustainable for a larger scale operation. But playing catchup will probably prove tough:

Campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond said Gingrich now has 24 staff members in the first three primary and caucus states, including six in Iowa, eight in New Hampshire and 10 in South Carolina. (As recently as October, the Boston Globe reported Jon Huntsman had over 20 staff in New Hampshire alone.).

The Gingrich staff size is set to expand, sources said, and the campaign is expected to add national-level talent and hire aides in Florida soon.

But his current staff is acutely aware of the fact that they are racing against the clock to sustain the momentum of their late-surging candidate. One adviser in Iowa acknowledged that there was simply no time to build the extensive turnout operation required to win the Iowa caucuses, joking: “The furniture just moved in yesterday.”

“In three weeks, four weeks, to say we’re gonna have 99 county chairs? No,” conceded the adviser, who said Gingrich’s lone office in Urbandale was the only full-time headquarters planned.

And if Newt does survive the early primaries, the organizational catchup will only get tougher. The challenge will become avoiding a Mike Huckabee–style flame out — thanks not to unpopularity, but to a sheer lack of boots on the ground. Gingrich has already missed the deadline for Missouri's (non-binding) primary, and his campaign filed only a partial slate of delegates in New Hampshire before the deadline passed there. Politico finds that Gingrich, unlike Mitt Romney, has still yet to file in places like Texas and Vermont. And his challenges  are not just logistical — Newt could also use a few more people keeping his instincts in check, one of his former advisers told Politico. “He doesn’t have people around him who can say, 'Whoa.' That’s kind of the danger of being a one-man band when you get to the top of the stack."

This post has been updated with more information.