Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said from the beginning of the 2012 cycle that he'd run an unconventional campaign, and now that he's ahead, his campaign strategist says he'll keep it up.
This Saturday's debate in Iowa will give Gingrich a chance to showcase once again that he won't attack his GOP competitors, but rather will continue his tack of staying positive and emphasizing party unity.
If "the most important factor that compels Newt to the top of the class is his debate performance, then the obvious thing for him to do is to continue to do what he's been doing," explains Kellyanne Conway, who Gingrich recently hired as his campaign pollster and senior strategist. "As has been a custom throughout the race, the only criticisms Speaker Gingrich will levy will be against Obama and his agenda."
Instead, Conway says, Gingrich's answers at this week's debate—and future debates—will focus on providing plans to solve the nation's problems.
But with opponents like Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sharpening their knives—all have actively criticized Gingrich since he's become the frontrunner—maintaining a calm focus on solutions could be more of a challenge than in past debates.
Conway says he can handle it. "Newt is fully capable of defending himself against specious attacks and still being a polite, gracious gentleman," she says. "Newt's not going to allow these debates to take away from a policy and principle and vision orientation down to some contest on who can play gotcha best or hurl the worst insult."
And it may not be so easy for other candidates to take Gingrich down with only weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, according to Republican strategist Luis Alvarado of the political consulting firm Revolvis. Earlier in the year, Alvarado doubted Gingrich would have made it this far, but now he believes the former speaker has staying power.
"It's going to be a challenge for the others to actually be successful at gunning him [down] when he has demonstrated that his message actually has gravitas and actually is creating an impact in the campaign," he says. But, he adds, Gingrich's frontrunner status means the former speaker "definitely has to put more resources into defending himself and his campaign as he moves forward."
Alvarado once thought Gingrich too academic to appeal to the Republican Party, but says the candidate has now proven himself to also possess the ability to represent GOP ideas with passion.
He agrees Gingrich shouldn't change strategy now.
"It's worked for him, so why would he change something that's proven to be successful?" Alvarado says.
Conway adds that positivity in a campaign is historically the best route to go—and she says Romney and Paul are making a mistake in their attacks. "They're looking backward and going negative; [Gingrich] is looking forward and remaining positive," she explains.
She says it's obvious which tack is the real winner with the American people, based on who won past elections: "Obama not Hillary, Obama not McCain, Bush not Gore or Kerry, Reagan not Mondale, Clinton not Bush, and certainly not Dole," she says. "People always go for the more optimistic, positive candidate."
"[Gingrich] is a historian," she adds. "He knows that, and he's going to remain that way."
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Corrected on 12/8/11: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Ms. Conway’s job title.