The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
DES MOINES, Iowa — Talking too much about an old friend has been painful for Gordon Austin.
“I have the bruise on my ear to prove it,” said the retired surgeon from Carrollton. He’s here with his wife, Meredith, and 30 other Georgia volunteers, working phone banks, carrying signs — whatever it takes to push Newt Gingrich across the finish line in Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses, the first real votes cast in the 2012 presidential campaign.
Gingrich’s up-and-down candidacy has prompted what may be the largest Georgia invasion of this state since a certain peanut farmer helped create the legend of Iowa’s political clout 35 years ago.
The question is whether this latest Southern incursion will be large enough — and strong enough — to preserve the former Georgia congressman’s recently won status as the predominant obstruction between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and an early stampede to the Republican presidential nomination.
Romney and Texas congressman Ron Paul, whom the latest polls tout as the front-runners in Iowa, took a break from the state Saturday. Both are confident of a good showing when tens of thousands of Iowa Republicans gather in living rooms and civic halls to cast their secret ballots.
The other candidates continued to slog it out, including Gingrich — who this weekend has his wife, two daughters and a brace of Atlanta grandchildren in tow.
“No one knows who’s going to decide to turn out. No one knows what the conversations are going to be like at the caucuses. I think that up to half the caucus-goers are going to be potentially willing to switch during the course of the evening, as they talk with each other,” Gingrich told about 150 voters crammed into a coffee shop in Creston, a grain town in the southern hills where the wooden floors still shake when the trains rumble through.
It was late Friday, the final stop of the day. A weary Gingrich had already won the daily headline war with a few tears shed before a group of Republican women, as he talked about his late mother and her struggle with a bipolar disorder.
Presidential campaigns in Iowa are traditionally about the human touch. Gingrich’s damp eyes were cited as proof that the former U.S. House speaker isn’t the ogre that a barrage of negative TV ads here has declared him to be.
Gingrich was his usual sharp-tongued self, but that was something that Jerry and Karla Hynes — he’s a landlord, she works in a bank — were looking for. In 2008, they were Democrats and supporters of Hillary Clinton. This year, they intend to change their party registration and vote in Tuesday’s caucuses.
Jerry Hynes said he appreciates brashness. “I’m looking for someone willing to lose it all to get what he thinks would be good for the nation,” he said.