On Wednesday evening around 6:30 ET, Newt Gingrich strategist Joe DeSantis declared the Gingrich surge in Iowa officially over.
“Oh I think anywhere in the top five would be surviving Iowa,” DiSantis told CNN.
Just a couple weeks ago, Gingrich was riding high in Iowa, leading by huge margins. DeSantis acknowledged that his candidate is no longer in “the top tier” however, chalking up the decline to the blanket of negative ads that have been run against Gingrich since he surged.
“I don’t care what candidate’s in the race, if they get $9 million in negative advertisements against them they’re going to drop in the polls,” he said. “Considering we’ve been outspent 30-1 on the air, that still being very competitive for fourth place right now and, frankly, really not that far off from being in the top tier in Iowa still is pretty impressive.”
Gingrich first signaled his campaign would be looking past Iowa on Dec. 15, but DeSantis’ comments suggest team Gingrich has well and truly moved on, despite some ad buys and a bus tour in the homestretch to the Jan. 3 caucus.
DeSantis, like Gingrich, also looked past New Hampshire which is an expected win in the Romney column. Also like his boss, DeSantis suggested the campaign will reset in South Carolina, where Gingrich says he has a deep base of support.
“We think that by the end of Florida…it is going to come down to a two-person race between Gov. Romney and Speaker Gingrich,” DeSantis said.
In order for this to work, the Gingrich campaign is likely praying that Romney does not win Iowa, which the latest polls out of the Hawkeye State suggest he might. If Ron Paul wins, the state will likely be written off among the GOP establishment. A Romney win in New Hampshire will have less of an impact than it normally might because Romney has spent so much time and money on winning the state in the past four years he’s practically a resident. So that would make South Carolina, the third primary, the first real competitive battleground which would give Gingrich a chance to redeem himself. If Romney wins Iowa, however, Gingrich’s lowered expectations probably won’t mean much — Romney will have shown he can win among the tea party and evangelical voters expected to turn out in Iowa, leaving Gingrich with little room to suggest he’s a necessary alternative.