If 2008 was the year a generation of impressionable young voters rallied behind Barack Obama, Newt Gingrich is hoping 2012 is the year the elderly strike back. And so far, his plan seems to be working.
The former Speaker has made senior citizens a key plank of his strategy since the beginning of his run. Gingrich’s first major speech after declaring his candidacy was in front of a conference on Alzheimer’s disease. And after his campaign collapsed, he identified the elderly as a crucial part of his comeback plan, making the nation’s “grotesquely underfunded” research into treating the disease a centerpiece of his fundraising speeches.
“I’m going to campaign on, how do we deal with Alzheimer’s, which really affects millions of Americans,” Gingrich told FOX News’ Neil Cavuto in June.
Seniors’ place in his campaign is perhaps the best lens for explaining some of Newt’s most perplexing early decisions, like his tendency to tack left on entitlements and right on Obama conspiracy theories. You might say, to understand Newt Gingrich you have to understand elderly anti-Obama thinking.
A lot of people were shocked in May, for example, when Gingrich came out strongly against Paul Ryan’s proposal to replace Medicare with a private voucher system, dismissing it as “right wing engineering.”
Similarly, Gingrich turned heads when he dipped into birther territory to praise the “stunning insight” behind a Dinesh D’Souza book’s absurd claim that Obama supported a laundry list of longtime Democratic priorities because of his shady foreign roots.
“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” Gingrich told the National Review in 2010. “That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”
Guess which demographic hated the proposed changes to Medicare the most, but also was most likely to open that all-caps chain e-mail about the font in Obama’s birth certificate? Hint: it’s the one surrounding Gingrich in his primetime interview with Sean Hannity last night.
His attention to older white voters, who were central the GOP’s 2010 wave, seems to be paying off. So far, Gingrich is attracting a disproportionate share of the senior vote across the board. And given that Iowa and Florida are two of the five oldest states, there’s plenty to recommend the strategy. Indeed, the most dramatic movement for Gingrich so far is in Florida, where one PPP poll showed him with a 47-17 lead over Romney. PPP flagged his senior surge nationally with the chart below:
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.