Newt Gingrich is coming to Massachusetts today, which won’t vote in the Republican presidential primary until March. But the unconventional campaign of the former House speaker and Republican presidential candidate includes a stop this afternoon at the Harvard Institute of Politics, in Cambridge.
Trey Grayson, director of the Harvard Institute of Politics, said all the Republican candidates for president were invited to speak at the institute. But Gingrich, who accepted the invitation in August, is the only candidate who has nailed down a date.
Back then, the former speaker was a marginal candidate, in the single digits in the polls. Now, he is a frontrunner in national surveys, under intense scrutiny for his business dealings, three marriages, and lack of a traditional campaign operation.
“We got lucky with the timing,’’ Grayson said.
Gingrich and his wife, Callista, will screen “A City Upon a Hill,’’ their film about American exceptionalism.
The Georgian will then sign his book, “A Nation Like No Other,’’ also about American exceptionalism, at the Harvard Square Coop.
Grayson, the former Republican secretary of state of Kentucky, said it is not yet clear if Gingrich will be able to mount a sustained challenge to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, whom Grayson views as the eventual nominee.
“On issues, he’s well-situated for his party,’’ Grayson said of the former speaker. “It’s some of the personal stuff and style stuff that has been problematic.’’
Grayson also marveled at Gingrich’s nontraditional campaign, mixing book signings and film screenings with traditional campaign events. Cambridge, for example, isn’t exactly a classic stop for Republican presidential candidates, who tend to spend more time in New Hampshire and Iowa.
“There’s sort of ‘brand Gingrich,’’’ Grayson said. “He’s playing to his strengths and it also reinforces ‘brand Gingrich,’ so that if he doesn’t win, he’s still around afterward. He gives speeches; he talks about history a lot.’’
US Representative Charlie Bass, a New Hampshire Republican, praised Gingrich as an ideas man.
“I’m not ashamed to say I respect his intellect and imagination,’’ said Bass, who has not endorsed any candidate in the GOP nominating contest. “He’s a futurist and a historian with a somewhat nontraditional view of the world.’’
But with a note of frustration, he said it is not enough for Gingrich and the other Republican candidates to speak only to the party’s base. He said they have to broaden their appeal toward the middle.
“At some point in this campaign, somebody’s got to step up and say this isn’t about winning the primary, this is about leading America,’’ Bass said.
As an example, Bass said he was disappointed that neither Gingrich nor any of the Republicans raised their hands during a debate in August, when they were asked if they would accept a deficit-reduction deal that favored spending cuts over tax increases by a 10-to-1 ratio.
Bass said Republicans have to acknowledge that when it comes to the deficit, “everything has to be on the table.’’
Bass also said it is not clear yet if Gingrich’s surge will last. That will depend, he said, on the former speaker’s ability to handle the harsh national spotlight.
“Now that Newt is the frontrunner or at least the challenger to Mitt Romney, he knows he has the chance to hold these people, and the question is, can he?’’ Bass said.
Some Republicans aren’t willing to even consider Gingrich.
John Richardson, a GOP state representative from New Hampshire, said he is torn between supporting Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry. But he said he has ruled out Gingrich because of the former speaker’s three marriages, and history of infidelities.
“The way it was done and his moral baggage really causes me a lot of pause,’’ Richardson said. “If it wasn’t for that, he would obviously be a huge candidate because he did a great job working across the aisle with President Clinton to balance the budget. But what happened really hurts him a whole lot.’’
A flier from a previously unknown Christian conservative group was circulated in Iowa earlier this week criticizing Gingrich for his marriages.
But Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, who was named Gingrich’s Iowa campaign chair back in February, said she doesn’t think those attacks will hurt the candidate.
“Absolutely, there are choices and decisions he has made that he isn’t proud of and he would do them differently if he could have, and he has reconciled those things between his family, God and himself,’’ Upmeyer said. She added that Gingrich is now a devoted grandfather and family man.
She said Gingrich is also planning to hire his first paid staffers in Iowa, after watching them quit this summer, amid complaints that he and his wife had gone on a cruise in the Greek isles when Gingrich should have been campaigning in Iowa.
“It’s a function of doing the absolute most you can on a very lean budget and as the budget opportunities improve, I think you will see he will hire more staff and will be staffed in Iowa,’’ she said.
A group of conservatives is planning to protest Gingrich’s appearance at Harvard, proclaiming him a “Republican in name only.’’
“Whether we’d like to admit it or not, the mainstream media is telling us that Newt Gingrinch has surged to top-tier candidate status. We need to show up and inform his conservative supporters that he is a big-government Republican,’’ organizers of the protest wrote on Facebook.