Gingrich Faces Problems in Iowa

These are the perils of trying to build an organization in Iowa just weeks before the caucuses: Newt Gingrich’s brand new Iowa political director just got booted from the campaign after referring to Mormonism as a “cult”:

Craig Bergman during a focus group on Wednesday with the Iowa Republican and McClatchy newspapers said he thinks Romney’s religion will eventually cost him votes.

Bergman made the comments about Mormonism last week, the day before Gingrich hired him. Which raises the question: assuming he was in talks with the Gingrich campaign about the political director position, why would he say something so controversial at an on-the-record event?

The episode highlights the real obstacles Gingrich faces in Iowa. While he still leads the field in recent polls, he only began putting together an organization in the state in the past several weeks. Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have been working on theirs for years. Earlier this month, the L.A. Times reported on the state of Gingrich’s Iowa operation, which had been left in shambles after his entire state staff quit en masse in June:

With voting in the Republican presidential contest only a month away, Newt Gingrich’s campaign was surging this week. But in his office in suburban Des Moines, something was missing.

There were no workers, no phones. As of Thursday, when Gingrich spoke at a nearby hotel, the office lights had not been turned on.

The disconnect was a telling example of the challenges he faces in turning his recently revived yet still disorganized candidacy into one capable of corralling the nomination. He’s scrambling to hire staff, open campaign offices and reach out to undecided voters — against a rival, Mitt Romney, who has had five years to build a nationwide organization.

Though Gingrich has staffed up in Iowa by now, the quick hiring and resignation of his political director shows how much of a last-minute scramble this is for his campaign. Meanwhile, the attacks from other candidates are starting to eat into Gingrich’s support in the polls – he’s dropped five points in the past week, and now leads Ron Paul by just one point, according to today’s Public Policy Polling survey. Without a strong operation, Iowa may turn out to be a big upset for Gingrich.