URBANDALE, IOWA-- They're not even plugged in yet, but the phones for Newt Gingrich's Iowa campaign office finally arrived on Tuesday, exactly one month before the state's caucuses.
After topping several polls in the state, Gingrich opened an official campaign office here just a few days ago. So far, the staff of seven, who are corralling volunteers across the country to make calls and knock on doors--one came from as far as San Diego, Calif.--have conducted their business online or on their cell phones. Although Gingrich has made several trips through the state, his organization in Iowa has been lackluster compared to several rival campaigns, which have focused on their Hawkeye ground game for months.
"Newt's been a strong proponent of leaner-faster-better-stronger for a very long time," Iowa campaign spokeswoman Katie Koberg told Yahoo News when asked why it had taken this long to open shop in the state holding the first caucus of the election cycle. Koberg returned to the campaign recently after quitting Gingrich's team in June (along with 15 other staffers). "Until there's a strong need for something, he's been building, he's been working, he's been providing solutions," she said. "And now we're at a point where part of the solution to get him to be the Republican nominee is to have an office and a full-time staff here."
The new office, located just a few miles northwest of downtown Des Moines, is still largely empty. Volunteers only recently set up tables and chairs in the common area, and a receptionist greets callers from a card table near the door.
There's a Christmas tree at the entrance, poinsettias on every table and a copy machine that sits alone in a far corner. On a side wall rests an old Iowa map brought in from a campaign hand who worked for George W. Bush's team in 1999-2000. It still has a "Bush-Cheney" sticker on it and markings from the campaign.
In another corner, three young children, one son and two daughters of campaign volunteer Sondra Ziegler, sit quietly making posters for voting precincts. Ziegler, a home school mom who traveled to Iowa from Lubbock, Tex., with her kids and mother, is preparing a red tablecloth to decorate the tables that will soon be filled with chattering phone-banking volunteers.
"I just felt that this was so important that I wanted to get up here and help in any way I could," Ziegler says, folding up the fabric. "I heard he was behind in his ground game and he didn't have the fundraising early on that some of the other candidates did. ... I'm as shocked as anybody that he's able to be in a position of possibly winning this thing. It's exciting. I couldn't rest until I got here."
Ziegler's very popular in the office, and for an important reason: When she noticed the office didn't have a coffee machine, she marched over to the store and bought one.
"I can't volunteer without coffee," she says. "I just went to Target and got it."
Immediately, a head pops over a cubicle across the room.
"You bought a coffee machine?" a woman shouts across the room. "You are the best volunteer ever!"
And now, armed with java and telephones, Gingrich's official campaign organization in Iowa can really begin.
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