MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa — Newt Gingrich was in his glory in December, as happy — friends said — as he had ever been in his life as his unlikely "experiment" of a campaign turned him into a temporary frontrunner.
This week is no fun. Gingrich has the flu; he's drinking Gatorade. He shook hands for half an hour with supporters in a dingy hotel ballroom here, then raced for the bathroom. He was stopped on the way by Jarret Heil, the Marshall County Treasurer, who told Gingrich he sympathized: He'd lost his own State Senate race because of negative ads from a Political Action Committee of the sort -- if not the scale — that are currently burying Gingrich on Mitt Romney's behalf.
"We're trying to figure out frankly how to answer that now," Gingrich told him. "It's all Romney."
Reporters waited while a security guard stood vigil outside the restroom, then went to face the press, and to gamely concede that he should have responded more swiftly to the advertising from the Restore Our Future PAC, a Romney front. He answered the kind of questions from few other candidates would indulge. MSNBC's Chris Matthews, in a long exchange with the former speaker, lamented the Romney auxiliary "kick[ing] the shit" out of you. Gingrich didn't blink, and accepted the premise, and complained more about the negative ads.
The December Gingrich was magnanimous; the January version has sharpened his attacks — Romney is a "Massachusetts moderate" and and a supporter of "tax-paid abortions" whose allies have "Romney-boated" him, he said in Marshalltown. He promised to the press, as he did to Heil, that he'd have his better-late-than-never response out soon, and he has raised some $10 million to put behind the honest but negative ads. He told reporters he sees a path to victory through an eventual, united anti-Romney votes.
But Gingrich continues to insist that his campaign is different, and positive, and it certainly remains ... different.
"I just got a picture at our last stop with a coon-dog which will be part of our Pets with Newt project, which is very positive," he said.