ANDERSON, South Carolina — With victory in South Carolina tonight all-but-assured, Newt Gingrich is already looking to ride the momentum to a surge in Florida.
Gingrich launched a bus trip through the upcountry region of the state that had the feel of a victory tour, with an all-smiles candidate shaking hands and taking photos between media interviews.
“If you convince all your friends and neighbors to come out and vote today, then we’re going to have a very big success today — it sets the stage to go to Florida and beyond Florida to take on President Obama,” he said at a stop in Boiling Springs.
Later Gingrich told an audience at a packed Chick-Fil-A: “I want you to make a list of everyone you know in Florida…”
Indeed, Gingrich has been making lists of names in Florida for months, where his scrappy operation is ready to give Mitt Romney a run for his money — literally.
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told reporters the campaign’s Florida operation “a kick ass one,” that has largely been put together out of view of the political press.
“We’re going to take wherever the establishment is, do the complete opposite, and then they’re going to be really surprised when we win,” Hammond added.
Gingrich has landed experienced Florida hands like Jose Mallea, Marco Rubio’s campaign manager, and former Attorney General Bill McCollum to run his campaign in the state.
Portia Palmer, Gingrich’s Florida Communications Director, said the campaign has 14 paid staff statewide, seven offices (with two more to be opened soon) and a county chairperson in each of Florida’s 67 counties.
“After the first SC debate we more than doubled our number of volunteers,” she said.
In a state known for the supremacy of television ads, Gingrich has yet to run any, while Romney has been up with them since the new year. Instead he’s targeting specific constituencies with radio spots and direct mail.
Palmer said Gingrich is giving particular focus to the Hispanic community with a Spanish-language radio ad, seeing the community as an untapped voter pool for the Gingrich campaign. “Cuba is just one area where Mr. Romney has flip-flopped and it’s pretty egregious,” she said, explaining the advertisement.
Ana Navarro, a longtime state Republican operative, adviser to former Gov..Jeb Bush, and endorser of Jon Huntsman’s failed candidacy, said Gingrich’s candidacy in Florida has a lot in common with John McCain’s 2008 effort which ended Romney’s candidacy.
“In 2008, like now, Romney had more organization, more paid staff, more paid media. If money and staff decided Florida, Mitt would have won here in 2008. Like McCain, Newt has a built-in brand and high name ID.”
Navarro explained what Gingrich must do over the next 10 days — provide standout debate performances and press Romney on his tax returns.
“What it will take for Newt to win is, coming in with the “Big Mo” out of South Carolina, and hitting the ground running in FL. Newt needs a few things. 1) Momentum coming out of SC that he can continue to build on in FL; 2) a lot of retail politicking and earned media in FL; 3) Strong showings in the two FL debates; 4) Romney to continue his flat-footed dance around the ring without landing a single punch on Newt; 5) And it wouldn’t hurt if Sheldon Adelson cut another $5 million for the Super-Pac so he could have some presence on the airwaves.”
Also a factor is the well-liked Bush, who remains a key player in state party politics. He was seen as preparing to endorse Romney just a week ago, but is now contemplating remaining on the sidelines.
“If Jeb were to not only nominally endorse Romney but also roll up his sleeves and work the State like he knows how, it could tip the balances for Romney. I have a feeling that won’t be happening,” Navarro said.
Gingrich staff did expressed worry that already nearly 200,000 Republicans have already cast absentee or early ballots — many before Gingrich’s latest surge.