Newt Gingrich reacts to questions from the Quad-City Times editorial board on Monday December 19, 2011. (Larry Fisher/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

Larry Fisher

In just 14 days, Newt Gingrich hopes to make a tough sale to Iowans, convincing them:

- They need legal protection from activist judges

- As many as 1 million undocumented workers should be able to earn U.S. residency.

- He’s at peace with his marriage, faith and family, and voters should be, too.

- Gingrich’s own government career doesn’t make him part of the problem.

The former House Speaker’s hour-long conversation with the Times editorial board resembled a college seminar, with an amiable lecturer casting rhetorical questions and referencing more books than all other caucus contenders who visited with our editorial board combined, this cycle and last. Gingrich intends to deliver this seminar in visits to 44 Iowa communities in the campaign’s remaining days.

He admits he’s playing catch-up.

“I became the frontrunner about 60 days earlier than we were ready for. If you’re going to be the frontrunner, you have to have the resources to match the scale of funding someone like (Mitt) Romney spent five or six years developing.”

Gingrich has dropped to third in Iowa, behind Romney and Rep. Ron Paul, according to the Public Policy Polling survey published Sunday. His sprint to the front relies on Iowa Republicans resurrecting their distrust of judges. Gingrich has proposed legislative checks on federal judges, including provisions to make some parts of legislation off-limits to judicial review.


War on judges

Activist judges, in his view, include those on the 2002 9th Circuit Appellate Court in San Francisco who objected to religious references in the Pledge of Allegiance. He also condemned Texas federal judge Fred Biery, who ordered religious references removed from a high school commencement ceremony. Notably, both rulings were overturned.

But Gingrich said voters should be wary of these activist judges.

“There is no reason to tolerate (Biery) on the bench. This is a man who is radically trying to impose some fantasy of his own. ... The lawyer class that runs so arrogant and so out of touch with the rest of country, they really thought they could impose on us a continuing wave of radical change.”

He believes Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucus voters are ripe for this issue. “This is a peculiarly useful state to do it in because you just had a campaign fought in this state on this issue,” he said, referring to three Supreme Court justices ousted for their votes in support of gay marriage. “So people have a better understanding of judicial overreach here than in many places.”

He expects to galvanize a constituency of “people who worry about Second Amendment, or property rights... or national security, or people who worry about marriage, or right to life, or religious liberty: You suddenly have a pretty big coalition in the country.”

“The core question is simple: Are judges in America superior to everybody else and do they have unchallenged, dictatorial power, and is the only solution to appoint new judges? That’s been the motto of the bar association; lawyers are sacrosanct... I think that’s nonsense. It’s historically un-American.”


Reaching social conservatives

Reaching out to social conservatives raises personal issues from which Gingrich doesn’t retreat. His first two marriages ended amid accusations of infidelity, the last after he’d famously condemned President Bill Clinton for similar behavior.

“I’ve had problems in my life. I’ve had to go to God and seek reconciliation. And I ask (voters) to look at who I am today and make a decision based on my relationship with Callista, which is very, very close, my daughters, my sons-in-law. ...They may be willing to say, at this point, he’s matured enough, I mean he’s learned enough, I’m going to be for him. ... Sometimes they’ll say yes. Sometimes, they’ll say no.”

Likewise, Gingrich refutes any conflicts of interest for his contracted work with lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He said he earned consulting — not lobbying — fees. And his only feedback to Congress was to fund the agencies less and regulate them more. “I told (Congress), don’t give them any money. ... I’m not sure as a good citizen, what more I could have said.”


Tolerance on immigration

Gingrich’s tolerance for some type of accommodation for illegal immigrants is intended to be compassionate, but lawful. He supports a Mexican border wall, a guest-worker program, English-first language law and a path to residency — not necessarily citizenship — for as many as 1 million long-time undocumented workers. He’s ready to permit continued residency for those in this country 25 years, with a job, family and, notably, an American sponsor family.

These residency appeals would be heard by a local civic board, which he equates to community draft boards. Although Iowa Republicans might flinch at residency for 1 million workers, he believes they’ll be more tolerant of “the family down the street that they’ve know for last 15 years, whose children went to school with their children, whose grandkids play with their grandkids, who sit in the pew with them in church. Should they be picked up by the police and deported, breaking up their family? I don’t believe so.”

He says voters he hears from call that approach “really practical. You’re trying to solve the problem. And second, you’re showing you’re dealing with human beings, not abstract images.” But he knows not all Republicans will buy it. “I think there are people who find that unacceptable and I probably won’t get their vote.”

But he will get votes from Republicans who believe “we are a humane country and we are not going to go out and tear apart families and have that kind of an effort to hunt down and kick out people.”


New ways of thinking

The former House speaker, D.C. consultant and adviser to presidents Bush and Reagan says his breadth of experience and approach to the issues make him the problem solver Republicans need now, not a throwback to an earlier era. “I’m trying to design and implement new ways of thinking and talking that lead you to a different set of solutions.”

He expects as many as a third of Iowa caucus participants won’t make up their minds until they reach the caucus site.

“My instinct is if you watch purchasing patterns today, people actually make purchasing decisions much closer to point of sale than ever before. ... If that’s true, you have up until the 3rd to make your sale.”

He intends to spend most of the time here, but not Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. He said he’ll be observing the day at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., where his wife sings with the choir.

“Some of these guys out there campaigning on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? It’s a little bit weird.”