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Washington (CNN) — As he seeks his party’s presidential nomination, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a man who knows he’s lucky to be alive — politically, that is.
“I was dead in June and July,” Gingrich said Thursday at a Florida campaign event. “As a candidate — not as a person — as a candidate. And now I’m apparently not dead.”
Gingrich’s life and death metaphor is a reference to the near total implosion of his campaign over the summer, when several senior members of his campaign staff resigned after they were unable to resolve differences with Gingrich over how the campaign was being run.
The scheduling of Gingrich’s time for campaign events and fundraising was an issue. Staffers also questioned Gingrich’s decision to go on a cruise early in the summer when his rivals were campaigning. At the time, one departed staff member also told CNN that the Gingrich campaign was “out of money” and “can’t pay (its) bills.”
During the same period, Gingrich also came under scrutiny over two credit lines he and his wife, Calista, had with high-end jewelry store Tiffany Co.
Rather than drop out of the race, Gingrich continued his bid with a focus on his penchant for generating big policy ideas intended to tackle equally large problems.
In a primary race defined so far by its volatility, Gingrich is the latest GOP presidential hopeful to see a surge in poll numbers and fundraising, driven by a combination of solid debate performances, other rivals’ missteps and misfortunes, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s inability to win over more than roughly a quarter of Republicans and pull away from the field.
A CNN/ORC International Poll released November 14 showed Gingrich and Romney in a statistical tie in the race for the GOP nomination. In the survey, 24% of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP said Romney is their most likely choice for their party’s presidential nominee, while 22% backed Gingrich; Romney’s 2-point advantage is well within the survey’s sampling error.
The survey also showed Romney’s level of support remaining stable since October, while support for Gingrich increased 14 percentage points in the same time period. And support for businessman Herman Cain had fallen 11 percentage points, from 25% to 14%, as Cain’s campaign dealt with allegations of sexual harassment.
In Iowa, the first of a handful of early-voting states in the GOP primaries, a recent Bloomberg News survey showed Gingrich in a four-way tie for the lead with Romney, Cain, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul. A Bloomberg survey in New Hampshire, which votes second, had Gingrich in third place behind Romney and Paul.
Gingrich has been happy to play the political pundit and deconstruct the GOP race. He recently told ABC News that there’s a “big opportunity for an alternative candidate” given that Romney has not attracted more than 25% support in most national and statewide polls of current candidates.
“My job, I think, is to reach out to the 75 or 80% who aren’t currently committed to Romney and to say, here’s a set of solutions that would actually get us back on the right track,” Gingrich said.
And Gingrich is equally self-aware when it comes to the reversal of fortune his own campaign has experienced since the summer.
“I’ve done this for 53 years,” Gingrich recently told CNN while on the campaign trail in Iowa. “And the two hardest months were June and July,” he said.
As for what went wrong earlier this year, Gingrich told CNN’s Jim Acosta, “I think a big mistake on my part was to try to bring in conventional consultants. … Because I am much like Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, I’m such an unconventional political figure that you really need to design a unique campaign that fits the way I operate and what I’m trying to do.”
Part of what makes Gingrich’s strategy unconventional — especially for a candidate who so far has lacked the financial resources to launch paid campaign advertisements — is attacking the media while simultaneously using televised presidential debates to get his message out and showcase his ideas for tackling the country’s policy challenges.
At nearly every debate, Gingrich has made a point of berating the media and challenging or criticizing the debate moderator. He recently sparred with Maria Bartiromo, one of the moderators of a CNBC debate, opining that, “It’s sad that the news media doesn’t accurately report how the economy works.” When financial journalist Bartiromo asked him what the media weren’t accurately reporting in his estimation, Gingrich responded, “I love humor disguised as a question. That’s terrific.”
Then he suggested that the media weren’t doing enough to scrutinize the economic views driving the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Now a front-runner, Gingrich has come under more scrutiny for his business dealings since he left Congress in the late 1990s. Questions have recently been raised about his past work for troubled mortgage giant Freddie Mac, for which his consulting group was paid as much as $1.8 million. Gingrich’s campaign says he was paid for strategic advice but did no lobbying for Freddie.
Speaking to supporters Thursday in Florida, Gingrich suggested the media were biased and predicted many more questions would be raised about his business dealings.
“And what you’re going to discover is that in the 12 years that I stepped down and was in private life — that in fact, I worked extraordinarily hard and that we were deeply committed to being citizens,” he said.
Gingrich added, “I will cheerfully answer any question that (the media) ask and at the end of it you’ll be relatively convinced, I believe, that I did no lobbying of any kind, I did no influence-peddling of any kind.”
As he predicted, Gingrich is likely to face more questions about his businesses and ties to companies and industries now at the center of policy debates in Washington. His surging support in polls comes with increased fundraising, but he has yet to be competitive with Romney or Texas Gov. Rick Perry on that score. And to be a serious contender for the Republican nod, he has to establish a presence for his campaign in Iowa and the other early-voting states — a process that is already under way in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
But the campaign is playing out like an Aesop fable, in Gingrich’s estimation.
“The bunny rabbit runs by and falls asleep. The tortoise just keeps coming,” Gingrich recently told CNN’s Piers Morgan. “So hopefully in this game, Mitt Romney will be the bunny rabbit and I’ll be the tortoise. That would all work out perfectly.”
CNN’s Jim Acosta, Paul Steinhauser, Gabriella Schwarz, Rachel Streitfeld, and Shawna Shepherd contributed to this report.