The best way to comprehend the nuts and bolts of the American political machine is to work for it. And so I did. For Newt Gingrich.
Situated in downtown Manchester next to a cigar shop, the office (the same spot that was overwhelmed by Occupy protesters; see "A Wedding and Four Funerals," page 10) broadcasts the message that Gingrich wants you to know that the good people of New Hampshire like him. Really like him. Letters from the "Newt" Hampshire–devoted proclaiming their support — "Good luck Newt! Kick butt. Be a bull." — are taped to the windows the way dollar bills line the back walls of Irish pubs. Some are handwritten, but most are culled from supporters in e-mails that were re-appropriated in Lucida Handwriting font so as to give them that personalized, handwritten feel.
When I walked in for the first time last week, I approached the front desk, and told the people in the room that I was interested in helping. "Great," replied Carli Dimino, Gingrich's New Hampshire Hispanic inclusion director. "Do you know any Mexicans?"
I felt like I was being set up for a right-wing punch line about border control. But I wasn't. "We're throwing an event for Hispanics, and we need bodies there. Tell them there will be free Mexican food." (Because if there's one thing local Hispanics respond to, it's the promise of a free buffet of New Hampshire–style Mexican food.) I told her I was light on Mexicans at the moment, but I took the flyers and promised to return.
After thinking about it, the time felt right a few days later — just a few hours after the second GOP debate of the weekend, where Newt was goaded by David Gregory into calling out Romney for now-infamous Iowa Super-PAC slams on Gingrich. I assumed the Gingrich people would be buzzing. The reality is less exciting; I arrive, they usher me to a banged-up folding table out back, and hand me my weapon: a 10-inch ultra-thin laptop-phone hybrid, presumably paid for by Newt's billionaire casino bud Sheldon Adelson.
I'm suddenly itchy, and not just to leave.
But I have a job to do. Make the calls. Know the talking points to unleash on the electorate. I'm given a bright little sheet filled with rebuttals and talking points from Gingrich's greatest hits — protecting life and religious liberty; his record as a Second Amendment crusader; "moderate Mitt tax reshuffling," which I'm to deploy to callers who are either partial to Gingrich or who express that they're sweet on Romney.
But the cheat sheet isn't necessary. Of the first 50 calls I make, 25 are met with either a respectful denial to support Gingrich — one housewife says she thinks he's smart but carries too much baggage — or the sound of a dial tone right after I announce myself. The rest are a mix of occasional talkers, wrong numbers, and one voter who apparently died in April. I ask my handler how to mark that voter in the system: "not home."