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Tea Party Tally

How Newt Gingrich won over the tea party

As opponents and the Republican establishment turn on former House speaker Newt Gingrich, he's getting a lifeline of support from a constituency he has ambitiously courted: the tea party. 

By Staff writer / December 20, 2011

Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich autographs a book before a campaign stop at Global Security Services in Davenport, Iowa, Monday.

Chris Carlson/AP

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Newt Gingrich topping Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and even tea party champion Ron Paul in a 23,000-person tea party straw poll on Monday might seem like another headscratcher in the GOP's bewildering and manic rush to come up with a candidate to unseat President Obama.

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The former House speaker tallied support from 31 percent of the tea partyers surveyed. The straw poll results came as national polls show Mr.Gingrich's support eroding. He's now in a dead heat with Mr. Romney, who has approached the tea party more cautiously.

Meanwhile, Representative Paul, sometimes called the godfather of the tea party, came in with only 3 percent of the straw poll vote. (Representative Bachmann received 28 percent, and former Massachusetts Governor Romney took 20 percent.)

Gingrich's record is long, complicated, and hardly the picture of philosophical rigor that the tea party movement seeks to employ in Washington. So, how did Gingrich win over the tea party?

Gingrich's appeal among tea partyers has its roots in a number of factors, including his early support of the movement, his scorched-earth maneuverings in the 1990s that helped guide the country toward balanced budgets and even surpluses, and the fact that he's being targeted for takedown by the same Republican establishment that the tea party has vowed to depose via electoral insurgency.

Gingrich can "express conservative views in ways that are, to that conservative audience, interesting and motivational, and those are his political assets,” says Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University, in Atlanta

Democrats have wasted little time playing up Gingrich's tea party connections. Gingrich was “a tea party politician even before there was a tea party," Debbie Wasserman Schultz,chair of the Democratic National Committee, recently said. "He supported gutting funding for education and Medicare to fund a tax cut for millionaires and shut down the government over it, and those are the same policies he supports today,” she said.

Gingrich's recent slip in the  polls indicate that his record is susceptible to attacks, like the ads playing in Iowa that highlight his work as a consultant for mortgage giant Freddie Mac, which paid Gingrich $1.6 million over six years. Gingrich has said he was paid for “strategic advice,” not lobbying.

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