Posted on | April 6, 2012 | 22 Comments
Newt Gingrich in Fort Myers, Florida, Monday, Jan. 30, 2012
“Well, it’s past 2:30 now, so I’d better get over to the airport. Let’s hope the Gingrich people don’t sic the cops on me.”
— Robert Stacy McCain, Jan. 30, 2012
How many readers remember the day I covered a Newt Gingrich rally in Fort Myers, Florida? That was the Monday day before the primary and I filed my column for The American Spectator that night from a McDonald’s on Colonial Drive, near Page Field, where Newt had flown in for an event with Michael Reagan and Herman Cain in the airport parking lot. It was a historic day, although I didn’t realize it at the time.
Yesterday, I did some research and discovered that Gingrich and his entourage were flying around Florida that day aboard a 16-seat Gulfstream IV jet. And what made Jan. 30 so historic was that on that day, according to their Federal Election Commission report, Newt’s campaign spent $970,826.77.
That was the peak — the pinnacle, the acme, the zenith — of Gingrich’s campaign spending. On no other day throughout the course of his entire campaign did Newt 2012 spend more money than on Jan. 30.
Not only that, but comparing reported estimates of attendance at Newt’s five rallies that day, the crowd at Fort Myers — which I estimated between 250 and 300 — may have been the biggest. In all, on that day when Gingrich hit his spending peak, his combined audience for all five events totalled fewer than 1,500 people.
And his campaign spent $970,826.77.
That amount was more than twice what Gingrich’s campaign collected on its best day of fundraising. On Jan. 22, the day after he won the South Carolina primary, Newt reported contributions of $403,164.
In case you don’t remember, Jan. 22 was a Sunday, and I was driving back home with my 13-year-old son Jefferson after a week spent covering the South Carolina primary campaign. We stopped in at a McDonald’s at Rock Hill, S.C., so I could do one more post from the Palmetto State. My wife called to tell me that, due to some wacky miscalculation or technological glitch, our bank account balance was near zero, and it was by no means certain that my remaining cash would buy enough gas to enable us to make it home to Maryland more than 400 miles away.
That crisis threatened a premature end to my campaign-trail travels, and it was therefore with a sense of desperation that I posted a “Memo from the National Affairs Desk” from that McDonald’s in Rock Hill:
How the hell am I going to make it to Florida? I’ve got press credentials for Thursday’s CNN debate in Jacksonville, but unless there is some kind of miracle between now and then, there’s no way I’ll be able to buy a plane ticket. Only the most frantic rattling of the tip jar can make it happen.
You came through, guys. Four days later, on Jan. 26, I flew out to Jacksonville to cover the CNN debate, and took note of this headline:
Yeah. Good luck with that plan, huh?
That Thursday night at the debate, I was wearing my Florida shirt (purchased at a nearby Goodwill store) in the media filing center:
Santorum left Jacksonville and went home to visit his hospitalized 3-year-old daughter, Bella. Meanwhile, I covered two Romney rallies — Friday in Orlando and Sunday in Naples, where I spent the weekend in a posh condo owned by Dan Collins’s parents — and then, on that history Monday, I drove to Fort Myers to cover the Gingrich rally.
Memories? It’s all kind of a blur now. If it weren’t for the daily account of these travels here on the blog and in my American Spectator columns, I’d never be able to re-assemble a simple chronology, much less remember little details about where I bought that crazy shirt.
And yet, despite all the madness and desperation, I was there — The Man on the Scene — the day Newt’s doomed presdiential bid hit its peak.
The $970,826.77 Gingrich’s campaign spent that day was equal to 17.4% of the $5.6 million Gingrich raised in January, which was its best fundraising month of the entire campaign. And I was there.
I saw it happen — an eyewitness to history in the making — without even realizing it at the time. The column I filed for The American Spectator that night at the McDonald’s half a mile from the Fort Myers airport was called “Fear and Loathing in the Sunshine State.” And so yesterday, when I began researching how Gingrich’s campaign spent its way to disaster, it was a kick in the head to realize that the pivotal moment had happened right there in front of my eyes:
Palm trees swayed in a warm Florida breeze one afternoon in late January while we awaited the candidate’s arrival. Four TV satellite trucks were parked outside the terminal at Page Field in Fort Myers, and I was among two-dozen or so journalists waiting in the airport parking lot where about 300 supporters of Newt Gingrich were gathered to greet the man who, just nine days earlier, had defeated Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary.
On Monday, Jan. 30, the day before the Florida primary, the omens were clear enough that Gingrich was about to be defeated in the Sunshine State, but none of Newt’s supporters that afternoon in Fort Myers seemed to suspect that the former House Speaker’s campaign was on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. Nothing reported by the news media prepared them for the disasters that swiftly followed Gingrich’s Florida defeat — his Nevada meltdown and his fourth-place February finishes in Minnesota, Maine, and Michigan — leading up to his March 6 wipeout, when Newt won only his home state of Georgia out of 10 contests on “Super Tuesday.” . . .
Read the rest at The American Spectator, and thanks to everybody who hit the tip jar and gave me a chance to tell that story.
This morning I drove to Waffle House for breakfast — 5-ounce New York strip steak, two eggs over medium, hashbrowns, wheat toast, large orange juice and coffee, $11.71 — and the waitress had a tattoo on her neck.
Heh. It’s weird how the little details make the difference. The tattoo!
You can read the rest of that and see if you spot the annoying little typo that jumped out at me. Damn, I hate typos.
- March 14: Memo From the National Affairs Desk: Mathematical Impossibilities Happen
- March 7: Memo From the National Affairs Desk: ‘Committing Acts of Journalism’
- Feb. 29: Memo From the National Affairs Desk: ‘If I Could Walk That Way …’
- Feb. 21: Memo From the National Affairs Desk: Meanwhile, Back on the Campaign Trail …
- Feb. 12: Memo From the National Affairs Desk: Santorum’s National Iowa-Style Strategy
- Feb. 1: Memo From the National Affairs Desk: Sic Transit Jacksonville Airport
- Jan. 22: Memo From the National Affairs Desk: Somewhere, There Is an Island …
- Jan. 11: Memo From the National Affairs Desk: Seventeen Days on the Campaign Trail
- Jan. 5: Memo From the National Affairs Desk: Eight Days in a Mustang Later …
- Dec. 25: Memo From the National Affairs Desk: How’s the Weather Today in Vanuatu?
- Dec. 19: Memo From the National Affairs Desk: Strange Rumblings in the Heartland