KINGSPORT — Both Texas Gov. Rick Perry and ex-U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich underachieved at the Iowa caucuses, key Tennessee political operatives for the two GOP presidential candidates acknowledged during a meeting with the Times-News Editorial Board on Wednesday.
Gingrich finished fourth and Perry landed in fifth place behind caucus winner and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; second-place finisher and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum; and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who placed third.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, is the Tennessee chairman of Perry’s campaign.
“I still think he’s the best person for the job,” Ramsey said of Perry. “I know him well. He’s done a great job as governor of Texas. Obviously, the (GOP presidential) debates killed him in my opinion. I don’t know if he survives through (the Jan. 21 GOP primary in) South Carolina or not. If he can’t make South Carolina, it is over. ... That’s going to be a personal decision for him to hold out through Iowa and New Hampshire, and South Carolina or not. ... Obviously (finishing fifth) is a blow.”
State Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, is co-chairing Gingrich’s Tennessee campaign with state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.
“I think Newt Gingrich is undoubtedly the smartest man in the room,” Shipley said. “It was a rough night for everybody, but when you’re on the receiving end of $5.5 million in negative ads, man, they work. Let’s see if they can spend that kind of money in New Hampshire and spend it in South Carolina. Newt’s in. He’s not coming out. ... I would venture he’s in at least through (the Jan. 31 GOP primary in) Florida. The (campaign) infrastructure is there. There may have been some shaky moments on the ground in Iowa in terms of organization. That’s not so here. It’s not so in Georgia or Alabama, or Florida or South Carolina. ... I still think he’s the smartest man in the room.”
But GOP presidential support in Tennessee, which holds its presidential primary on March 6, remains fragmented.
Romney’s campaign finance leadership team in Tennessee includes national Republican fund-raisers Ted Welch and Jim Haslam.
Haslam, the founder of Pilot Corp., is the father of current Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican who backed Romney’s 2008 presidential bid but hasn’t publicly announced support for any GOP presidential hopeful.
In Virginia, Perry and Gingrich “did not come close” to getting the necessary 10,000 signatures to be on the state’s March 6 GOP primary ballot, according to the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV).
Perry’s campaign has filed a lawsuit against the Virginia Board of Elections and RPV to gain access to the ballot.
“At this point it is necessary to see what the court says on this matter, and so neither I nor the party will be issuing any further statements until the judge issues a ruling,” said RPV Chairman Pat Mullins in a recent prepared release.