WASHINGTON -- Influential local Republicans in the early primary and caucus states see Newt Gingrich as exceptionally intelligent and experienced, which explains his emerging appeal. But the latest Power Outsiders survey also reveals that nagging doubts about Gingrich's character and electability may limit his rise.
The weekly GOP Power Outsiders poll, conducted by The Huffington Post and Patch, reaches out to local Republican activists, party officials and officeholders to observe the critical "invisible primary" that is usually a strong leading indicator of voters' preferences in presidential nomination contests. This week, we interviewed 154 Power Outsiders, including 45 in Iowa, 42 in New Hampshire, 52 in South Carolina and 15 in Florida.
Gingrich's intellect, on regular display in a series of nationally televised candidate debates, stands out as the core of his appeal. We asked respondents for one word to describe Gingrich, and their answers were overwhelmingly positive (70 percent), with the list dominated by "intelligent," "smart," "brilliant" and "knowledgeable." In fact, synonyms describing intelligence accounted for 41 percent of all responses.
Another 16 percent answered with words that were either descriptive or not obviously positive or negative, and many of these touched on the same theme, such as "intellectual," "professor" and "historian." Just 14 percent used negative words to describe Gingrich, such as "arrogant," "old" and "baggage."
Answering a set of more specific questions about Gingrich, the local Republican activists were nearly unanimous in describing him as having "the knowledge and experience necessary to make a good president" (96 percent). Almost as many (94 percent) said he "takes stands on issues you agree with," and four out of five (80 percent) said he has "the personality and temperament necessary to make a good president."
However, the variation in intensity of opinion behind these answers begins to demonstrate the limits of Gingrich's appeal. While a remarkable three out of four (75 percent) felt strongly that Gingrich has presidential knowledge and experience (saying the phrase describes him "very well"), just 40 percent felt strongly that he has a presidential personality and temperament.
While a majority (67 percent) described Gingrich as someone who "can beat Barack Obama in the general election," nearly one-third (31 percent) did not. Compare this result to those for other candidates on previous Power Outsider surveys. As the chart below shows, these local Republicans see Gingrich as a more viable general-election candidate than Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, but less electable than Mitt Romney, Chris Christie, Rick Perry and Herman Cain (although we asked about the latter two at the peaks of their respective popularity earlier in the campaign).
So how many are ready to throw their support to Gingrich? Exactly one-third (33 percent) said there is a good chance they will support him, 42 percent said there is some chance and 22 percent said there is no chance.
Why are so many still on the fence? We asked the 42 percent who said there is just "some chance" they might support Gingrich what he could do to win their support, and no single response dominated. But on that question and a final request for open-ended comments, slightly better than one-third of the 42 percent (or 14 percent overall) made some reference to Gingrich's personal "baggage" or what one called his "reputation as a husband."
Some raised these issues as a way of articulating their doubts about his electability:
"A lot of people view him as a hypocrite based on his own personal life, rightly or wrongly."
"His personal past is still very difficult for many people to get past."
"His multiple marriages are a problem for many women."
Many also mentioned more conventional aspects of electability, such as Gingrich's need to "erase his campaign debt" or "get an organization up and running." Those are real concerns that Gingrich may still have time to address, particularly if he can score of victory in the wide-open Iowa Caucuses on Jan. 3.
The questions of integrity and temperament, however, could prove more vexing. If they do, voters may end up agreeing with the Iowa respondent who said of Gingrich, simply, "intelligent but unelectable."
The HuffPost-Patch Power Outsiders
Our surveys are not a scientific random sample of any larger population but rather an effort to listen to a swath of influential, local Republican activists, party leaders and elected officials in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. All of the individuals listed below have agreed to participate in the surveys, although not all responded to this week's questions. Interviews were conducted between Nov. 11 and Nov. 15, 2011.
Cory Adams (Story County GOP chair), Leah Adams (Co-Chair, Johnson County Republican Women), Jim Aipperspach (Republican activist), Chad Airhart (Dallas Co. recorder), Skye Alison (Insurance Sales), Roger Anderson (Member, Johnson County GOP Executive Committee), Jeff Angelo (former republican office holder), Shane Blanchard (Waukee City Council), Carmine Boal (Former Congresswoman, now works for governor), Steve Boal (CFO, Accu-Mold), Robert Brownell (Polk County supervisor), Irene Chalmers-Neubauer (Republican precinct captain), Jacob Chapman (President, Dallas County Young Republicans), Andy Christenson (Active Republican), Arleigh Clemens (Co-Chair Johnson County Republicans), Chris Colter (Running for City Council), Creighton Cox (Local politician), Jeremy Davis (Councilman), Tyler DeHaan (Dallas County Young Republicans), Debra Derksen (PR person for Johnson County GOP), Paula Dierenfeld (Johnston Mayor), Mike Elam (Organizer, Dallas County GOP), Jill Ellsworth (Polk County Republicans), Paul Fell (Santorum supporter), Gregory Forbes (story county republican), Amanda Freel (State House Repub Staff), Kathy French (Local politician's wife, active Republican), Paul French (Local politician), Steve Gaer (West Des Moines mayor), Natalie Ginty (Chairwoman, Iowa Federation of College Republicans), E.J. (Polk County Supervisor), Tim Hagle (Iowa University Associate Professor, Political Science), Rick Hermann (Sales Manager, WeatherTech Automotive), Gregory Hudson (blogger), Libby Jacobs (former state representative), Dusty Juhl (Story county central committee), William Keettel (Former head, Johnson County Republicans), Gary Kirke (investor/developer), Kevin Koester (Congressman), Mary Kramer (former state senator), Marilyn Krocheski (Republican Party noteable), Elizabeth Kuennen (story county republican), Jon McAvoy (Head of Dallas County Republicans), Isaiah McGee (Owner, McGee strategies), Chris McLinden (Axis Human Capital, Businessman), Cynthia Michel (Precinct Captain), Randy Munson (Ankeny Chamber of Commerce President), Matt Nolan (Independent Republican, active in community), Mike Nolan (Republican Party notable), Jacqui Norman (Romney leadership volunteer), Scott Raecker (State Legislator), Ben Rittgers (Story County Republican), Will Rogers (Active Republican, businessman), Jim Sandager (West Des Moines city councilman), Rick Sanders (Republican Supervisor), Connie Schmett (Active Republican), Charles Schneider (West Des Moines city councilman), George Sellers (story county republican), Mike St. Clair (Lobbyist), Chad Steenhoek (Member, Strong America Now), Wade Steenhoek (Ankeny City Council), Ronald Stenstrom (Romney Supporter), Karen Svede (Former statewide candidate), Rob Taylor (Running for Iowa House Seat), Deb Thornton (Worked in Republican administrations), Darrow Uhlenhopp (story county republican), Robert White (story county republican), Jack Whitver (State senator), James Wilson (GOP/independent), Eric Woolson (Republican strategist), Randy Yontz (Director Leadership Institute), Paul Zietlow (Co-founder, West Side Conservative Club)
Eric Anderson (Former State Rep/Chair Bow Board of Selectmen), Gary Azarian (Rep-Windham), David Bates (Rep- Windham), Kathy Benuck (BCTV Host/Blogger), D.J. Bettencourt (State Rep., Maj. Leader), Diane Bitter (Rye Republican activist), Travis Blais (Windham GOP Chair), Bill Boyd (Town Councilor), Steve Brennan (Business owner), Bruce Breton (Selectman), Russell Bridle (Former Hampton Fire Department captain/State Rep.), Ed Brooks (Former ME selectman, town councilor), Chris Buck (Republican activist), Chris Buda (Merrimack GOP Chair), Jamie Burnett (Consultant), John Cebrowski (State Rep. - Bedford), Chris Christiansen (State Rep), Mark Cookson (Alderman-at-large), Tim Copeland (State rep.), Jim Costello (American Government teacher), Margaret Crisler (Windham GOP), Juanita Dangel (Secretary Hillsborough County GOP), Gary Daniels (State Rep), Ed Declercq (Planning Board), Jerry Delemus (Republican activist), Shari Demers (Activist), Julie DiCarlo (Small business owner), Ron DiCarlo (Small business owner), Bob Duffy (Nashua GOP City Committee), Bob Elliott (State Rep.), Gary Ellmer (Chairman, Porsmouth Republican Committee), Frank Ferraro (Exeter Selectman), Laura Foote (Activist), Mauri Foster (Retired), Sheila Francoeur (Seacoast Republican Women member), Michael Gallagher (Nashua Republican City Committee, running for Alderman), Bianca Garcia (Former Salem GOP Victory Office mgr), David Garcia (Salem Town GOP Chair), John Graham (State Rep. - Bedford), Brian Griset (Member of local political committee), Lisa Hansen (Romney supporter), Peter Hansen (State Rep), Pat Hargreaves (Selectman), Jeff Hatch (Salem Romney Town Chair), Ken Hawkins (State Rep - Bedford), Dick Hinch (Current State Rep), Jennifer Horn (Republican activist), David Hurst (New Hampshire Young Republicans chairman), Zac Johnson (Technical writer), Ken Jones (Member of Amherst Republicans), Gary Krupp (Member of the School Budget Committee), Steve Landry (Small business owner), Tom Linehan (GOP Activist), Phil LoChiatto (Selectman), Eduardo Lopez-Reyes (Republican Liberty Caucus, National Vice Chair*), Marie Lopez-Reyes (Small business owner*), Di Lothrop (Nashua GOP City Committee), Stephen E. Ludwick (Chairman, Supervisors of the Checklist, Ward 9), Jim Luther (State Senator), John Lyons (Lawyer), Kris MacNeil (Former State Senate candidate), Joel Maiola (Former Judd Gregg Chief of Staff), Andrew Manuse (State Rep - Derry), George Markwell (School Board Member), Harry McClard (Freelance writer), Patrick McDougall (Budget Committee), Charles McMahon (Rep- Windham), Bill Modis (Vice Chair of Amherst Republicans), Maureen Mooney (Past State Rep), Keith Murphy (State Rep - Bedford), Tasha Olsen (Republican activist), Rick Paige (Loan officer), Michele Peckham (State Rep.-N. Hampton), Amy Perkins (State Rep.-Seabrook), Lawrence Perkins (State Rep.-Seabrook), Kathryn Peterson (community activist), Lenette Peterson (State Rep), Pam Price (former state rep), Lee Quandt (State rep.), Matt Quandt (Exeter Selectman/State Rep.), Tom Rath (Consultant), Fred Rice (State Rep. (Hampton)), Jim Rubens (Former Republican State Sen.), Pete Silva (Rep - Nashua), William Smith (Conservative Blogger), Dan St. Hilaire (Executive councilor), Brandon Stauber (Small business owner/recent Exeter transplant), Kathy Stroud (State Rep), Chris Tremblay (Activist), Pam Tucker (Deputy House Speaker), Mark Vincent (Chair of Amherst Republicans), Jim Waddell (State Rep. Hampton), Tom Walker (Conservative Republican), Robert Washburn (Former City Councilor), Kevin Waterhouse (Rep- Windham), Raymond White (State Sen. - Bedford), Alan Williams (North Hampton resident, former Exeter selectman), J. Christopher Williams (Pres. Nashua CC), Tony Zore (Tea Party member)
Aubry Alexander (Charleston City Council - District 9), Thomas Alexander (State Senator), Dean Allen (Tea Party Activist), Charm Altman (President Sea Island Republican Women), Patrick L. Arnold (Campaign and fundraising consultant), Todd Atwater (S.C. Rep. Dist. 87), Rep. Nathan Ballentine (SC House Dist. 71), Bill Banning, Sr. (Vice-chair, Lexington County Council), Bob Barnwell (Richland Co. GOP Spring Valley), Joseph Bates, Jr. (Committeeman/ Richland Co. GOP Dutch Fork), Eric Bedingfield (State Rep/Congressional Staffer), Rick Beltram (Former Spartanburg GOP Chair, Self-quoter), Lin Bennett (Chair, Charleston County GOP), Rich Bolen (Chair, Lexington County GOP), Andrew Boucher (Business consultant and political advisor), Phillip Bowers (Chairman, Pickens County Republican Party), Dan Bracken (President/ The Auction Co. & Real Estate Inc.), Edward Britt (Engineer), Joe Bustos (Former town councilman), Jay Byars (Dorchester County councilman), Bob Call (Berkeley County Councilman), Tim Callanan (Berkeley County GOP Chairman), Earl Capps (Blogger), Ed Carter (Small business owner), Ben Coakley (Investment advisor), Edward Cousar (Executive Director, Black Republican PAC), M. Todd Cullum (Lexington County Council member), Rep. Joe Daning (Statehouse rep.), Smokey Davis (Lexington County Council member), Dana Eiser (Lowcountry 9.12 president), Linda Eiser (9/12 conservative), Scott Farmer (Richland County GOP Committeeman), Chip Felkel (Political Consultant), Will Folks (Editor, fitsnews.com; spokesman for former Gov. Mark Sanford), Leland Glen (Author), Chris Godbey (Political Consultant), Susan Grady (Republican activist), Randy Halfacre (Mayor of Lexington), Dan Hamilton (State Representative), Larry Hargett (Dorchester County Council chairman), Val Hutchinson (Richland County Council), Johnny Jeffcoat (Town of Lexington Economic and Community Catalyst; Lexington County Council member), Jim Jerow (Georgetown GOP Chair), Debbie Jones (9.12 Board Member), Joanne Jones (Republican activist), Grayson Kelly (Fundraiser), James Kinard (Banker, Chair, Lexington County Council), Todd Kincannon (Lawyer/former executive director of SC Republican Party), Bob Kouvolo (President/ MaxPt), Mickey Lindler (Chairwoman for Republicans of Lexington and Richland Counties), Chris Mann (City Councilman), Karen Martin (Organizer/Spartanburg Tea Party), Larry Martin (State Senator), Taft Matney (Conservative Political Consultant), James Metts (Lexington County Sheriff), Matt Moore (Executive Director for SC GOP), Susan Morris (Nonprofit executive director), Mike Murphee (Charleston Tea Party chairman), Deborah Myers (Political activist), Brent Nelsen (Professor of Political Science/former candidate for Supt. of Education), Don Nye (Bank employee), Allen Olson (Former Chairman of Columbia TEA Party), Walt Owens (University Professor), Randy Page (President,South Carolinians for Responsible Government), Gregory Pearce (Richland Co. Councilman), Kathy Perry (Charleston County Republican Women), Adam Piper (SC GOP 3rd Vice Chairman & political director for Huntsman campaign), Zach Pippin (GOP Media Consultant), Barbara Pulicicchio (Political activist), Rick Quinn (S.C. Rep. Dist. 69), Jeff Reuer (Vice Chair Goose Creek 9-12), DeLinda Ridings (SC GOP State Secretary / Huntsman campaign), Robby Robbins (Lawyer), Emily Rudolph (Sea Island Republican Women), LaDonna Ryggs (Spartanburg GOP Chair), Michael Sally (Hanahan City Councilman), Dennis Saylor (Chair, Aiken GOP), Bill Severns (Rep. for Beaufort Republican Men), Lanneau Siegling (State Executive Committeeman), Billy Simons (Conservative activist), Garry Smith (State Rep), John Steinberger (Fair Tax activist), Mary Ann Taylor (Charleston County Republican Women/Charleston County School Board), MacLain R. "Mac" Toole (S.C. Rep., Dist. 88), Frank Townsend (Lexington County Council member), September Wellborn (State GOP Delegate), Jennifer Willis (County Councilwoman/ V.P. One Tree Hill), Henry Wilson (2011 delegate, S.C. Republican Convention), Cheryl Woods-Flowers (Former mayor, Republican official), James David Woodard (Professor of Political Science, Clemson University)
Ed Blommel (Candidate for Pasco Tax Collector), Guyann Bracken-Fay (Liberty School member), Kathy Brown (FishHawk Republican Club member, 912 activist), Sharon Calvert (Tampa Tea Party organizer), Courtney Clem (FishHawk Republican Club Secretary, college student), Kelly Clem-Rickon (FishHawk Republican Club VP), John B Conneely (Delegate to the Presidency 5 convention and straw vote in Orlando), Anne Corona (West Pasco Republican Club President), John Costig (Brandon912 Leader), Deborah Cox Roush (Hillsborough County Republican Party chair), Vic Crawford (Brandon912 member), Clif Curry (Brandon Republican Club member), Scott Cutler (Brandon912 member), State Sen. Mike Fasano (Senator), Stacy Feiler (Activist; Liberty Tree Consulting), Coni Ferguson (912 member), Gym Fish, Sandra Graves (Co-vice president of the Republican Club of Pasco), Steve Graves (Co-vice president of the Republican Club of Pasco), Julia Hassler (Club Politico President), Al Higginbotham (Hillsborough County Commission Chair), Dawn Hudson (Republican), Joanne Hurley (Pasco school board chair), David Jolley, Susan Kiser (Registered Republican voter), Shari Kotsch (West Pasco Republican), Casey Mattox (Central Pasco Republican), Diana Mattox (Central Pasco Republican), Rachel O' Connor (Pasco county commission candidate), Wayne Pickard (912 member), State Rep. Richard Corcoran (State Rep), David Rowan (Central Pasco Republican), Christopher Shalosky (Fishhawk Republican Club President), Sid Talsma (Central Pasco Republican), Jenah Victor, Todd Wall (Central Pasco Republican), Sam Ward (Central Pasco Republican), Gene Webb, Patrick Weightman (Central Pasco Republican), Shirley Wood (Pinecrest912 leader)