By Robin Abcarian
9:28 AM PST, December 17, 2011
Newt Gingrich, whose campaign infrastructure is struggling to catch up to his popularity among voters, held his first tele-town hall this morning for Iowans.
"Several attacks suggest I am not a solid conservative," he said, and he began the 30-minute call by ticking off his conservative bona fides. (Supported Ronald Reagan in the '80s. As House speaker, cut domestic discretionary spending. Helped achieve the first Republican House majority in 40 years. Abortion foe, etc.)
Also under fire for accepting more than $1.6 million from mortgage giant Freddie Mac -- "the other big attack on me," he said -- Gingrich claimed the money was earned over a period of six years and mostly went to overhead expenses for the three offices he maintained, plus staff and "other things that didn't go directly to me."
The call was also a bid for organizational support, as every few minutes like clockwork, Gingrich announced, "If you're willing to be a caucus speaker, press 1. If you're willing to be a precinct captain, press 2."
Precinct captains are in charge of making sure voters actually leave their homes on Jan. 3 to cast ballots in small gatherings across Iowa. At each caucus site, speakers will urge their neighbors to cast ballots for a preferred candidate.
Callers asked about his position on Social Security (he advanced the "Chilean model" that his former rival Herman Cain popularized), Medicare, universal healthcare, the debt ceiling and jobs.
And then he went a little off track, when, in response to a question about his ties to Iowa, he appeared to call for the firing of an Iowa college professor who wrote a story about rural Iowa that was published by the Atlantic magazine last week.
"This past week we have had some bashing by University of Iowa professor," said a caller who identified herself as Sue Roberts of Clear Lake and Cedar Falls. "Telling that the caucus shouldn't be in the state of Iowa and he said that there were idiots in the state of Iowa and we have a lot of elderly and a lot of meth people."
The story, by University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom, who has written books about rural Iowa, was far more nuanced than that. You can read it here.
Gingrich went on, "I can't help laughing. Again, I don’t want to just say something I should not, I sometimes get attacked for being too flip, for being--I think one of my opponents called it zany --but frankly, if you have a professor being paid by taxpayers who calls the taxpayers idiots, I think that’s a pretty good argument for getting rid of him. And if he doesn’t want to be in Iowa, there’s a lot of places he can go."
Indeed, Bloom's office phone has a message on it directing callers to his office at the University of Michigan, where he is spending the academic year. A message left for him in Michigan was not returned.
Gingrich said he planned to hold such phone town halls regularly.
"I am inclined because of the extraordinary negativity of the campaign to every couple days have an 'Ask Newt' tele-town hall, so you are hearing it from my very own lips, not their advertising versus our advertising," he said. "I really want this to be a positive campaign."
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