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Newt Gingrich Campaign 'Reorganizing' To Grapple With Self-Proclaimed Frontrunner Status

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WASHINGTON -- Newt Gingrich's campaign is reorganizing to bring more order to what has been, until very recently, a seat-of-the-pants operation with little infrastructure and multiple lines of authority, sources in the campaign told The Huffington Post.

Senior Gingrich adviser Kevin Kellems and political director Martin Baker are at the helm of the overhaul. Kellems is a former Bush administration official who served as the Pentagon's director of strategic communications under Donald Rumsfeld, and then as a spokesman for Vice President Dick Cheney. He went on to work for Paul Wolfowitz during his rocky tenure as president of the World Bank.

"There is an expansion underfoot," a senior Gingrich aide, who asked not to be identified in order to discuss organizational changes and campaign strategy, told Huff Post. "Anytime a presidential campaign advances from one stage to another, you kind of graduate to top-tier or finalist or frontrunner, or whatever the label is of the day or the week. You're a very serious contender, and that's where we find ourselves."

"That means adding people, adding capacity, reorganizing in a way that produces the best result," the senior campaign official said. "To characterize this -- which others may want to -- as a shakeup or anyone being dethroned is not accurate. We were lean and mean, I mean very lean and mean. We're in a position to grow a little and to adjust."

The Gingrich campaign is bringing in experienced political operatives to key positions, including finance and fundraising, advance, and paid advertising, as well as in the press and communications shop, according to the aide. The official said that long-time Gingrich aide R.C. Hammond will remain the campaign's top spokesperson.

On Saturday, the Gingrich campaign hired Vincent Harris, an Austin-based consultant who ran Rick Perry's digital strategy until the Texas governor left the race this past week. Harris will play a similar role for Gingrich.

But the overhaul is also meant to transition a small, flat organization -- with former House Speaker Gingrich (R-Ga.) as the principal actor, accessible to virtually any aide or staffer -- to a larger, more hierarchical structure, campaign sources said. It is about centralizing and controlling decision-making, and moving away from allowing Gingrich's impulses and whims to roam unfettered.

Hammond, at an event last weekend, summed up Gingrich's approach to the campaign apparatus this way: "He has a flat hierarchy. The kid who drives him around, he listens to him as much as anybody."

But that kind of spontaneity is far more risky now that Gingrich is poised -- if he wins Florida -- to become the frontrunner. What passes for high command in Gingrich's campaign is trying to bring what a top aide said was "order and speed" to the decision-making process. The strategy is, however delicately and subtly, an attempt to impose some constraints on Gingrich.

After Gingrich's first batch of top advisers and consultants quit his campaign in June, putting his candidacy on life support, Gingrich ran most aspects of his own campaign for the summer and much of the fall. In November, and then to a greater degree in December, the campaign began to hire people back as Gingrich rose in the polls. Gingrich now has a group of several top advisers and aides that includes Kellems and Baker, former Rep. Bob Walker (R-Pa.), campaign manger Michael Krull, deputy campaign manager Vince Haley, and pollsters David Winston and Kellyanne Conway, as well as Hammond and communications director Joe DeSantis.

But Kellems told HuffPost that Gingrich remains "the chief driver of this campaign."

"He's not being wound up like a toy doll and being told what to say and do. I think Americans want that in a president and a commander in chief. They don't want somebody who is being programmed by others," Kellems said, in a clear slap at former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

The reorganization will help the Gingrich campaign prepare for a long primary fight focused on racking up delegates. The Gingrich campaign has for some time been considered ill-prepared to fight a drawn-out primary, but Kellems and others in leadership are trying to get it in shape to do so.

"I anticipate and we have for some time that this will be a long drawn out primary process," Kellems said.

Yet as polls show Gingrich having jumped ahead of Romney in Florida and drawing even in national surveys, Kellems displayed the confidence that now courses through the Gingrich campaign.

"Momentum is an amazing elixir. It cures almost all ills. I'm not predicting any outcomes, but I will say we've seen already what a strong South Carolina victory brings to both national momentum and in particular states, including Florida," he said.

For a long time, the month of February -- which will have only a handful of contests and a nearly three week gap between primaries -- looked as if it would be difficult to survive for a candidate like Gingrich, who was presumed to have little chance of winning Florida on Jan. 31. A top Romney adviser called the month a "Rubicon of down time." But now that Gingrich leads in Florida polls and has a real shot at winning the state, Kellems indicated that the month could instead be a test for Romney, going so far as to suggest that Romney's campaign could "collapse."

"Newt doesn't need to do anything more to prove his staying power. He's already made two sort of major comebacks that rely really on his own tenacity, his own strengths as a leader, and also the weight of his ideas and solutions," Kellems said. "You could argue that someone who has been arguing inevitability and overwhelming mass and structure, and money, that a campaign like that is more susceptible to a collapse than we are when challenged repeatedly."

The senior Gingrich aide said his campaign is looking to take advantage of what he views as Romney's greatest weakness.

"I don't think he knows who he is ... and why he's running, or at least isn't confident in the answer to those questions," the Gingrich aide said. "And I don't know what that is, but there's not an anchor there, a core, a central purpose that drives it, or an anger."

"It's almost more like, 'Oh I'm supposed to do this because Dad almost got there, and I feel bad for Dad, because he made this one mistake, this one sentence and it cost him the presidency. And so now the pressure of two generations is on me, and I can't screw it up."

Romney's father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, ran for president in 1968 and was a frontrunner for the Republican nomination -- until his comment that briefings by U.S. military officials during a trip to Vietnam had amounted to "brainwashing" helped end an already floundering candidacy.

In the current race, Gingrich may have the momentum, but he needs a better-run campaign. The overhaul currently in progress is badly needed, according to some. Even tasks as simple as victory music have sometimes been complicated by disorganization and competing lines of authority.

At the rally for Gingrich Saturday night after he defeated Romney in South Carolina, Gingrich was introduced by a state official to loud applause. His introduction music -- a clip of "American Ride" by country singer Toby Keith -- began playing at ear-splitting levels, looping six times before the DJ switched over to "Only in America" by Brooks and Dunn as the crowd continued to wait for Gingrich, who did not appear for several more minutes.

The mixup was due in part to the two Gingrich staffers standing next to the DJ, giving him different directives.

"There was one lady that was standing right next to me," the DJ, Pierre Brunache, told The Huffington Post. "I don't know what her role in the process was ... but she was giving directions to my left. And then there was another gentleman to my right holding a radio. He was speaking back and forth to somebody, giving him directions from his angle."

"So it was kind of like, I'm looking at two different people at the same time," he added.

Brunache said he received a call from the Gingrich campaign Saturday afternoon, a few hours before polls closed, asking him to provide music for the Gingrich rally that night. But he shrugged off the chaos.

"It wasn't anything that was overly difficult," he said. "I played songs that expressed victory, that expressed a strong showing for Newt. I played songs that would just keep the crowd pumped up."

Such snafus would be avoided with the campaign reorganization strategy, but Gingrich's senior campaign official declined to elaborate on new hirings, arguing that a larger operation would not guarantee electoral returns.

"I don't ever know if we ever will put any focus on that. I don't see the point," the aide said. "What Washington typically does is people want to draw a lot of attention to themselves so that they can charge higher fees, and it's more about them than it is about the candidate and the message."

This article has been updated.

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