By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
Republican presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich's campaign in Florida is subtle. So subtle that it doesn't seem to exist. The national campaign says that 888 Brickell Ave., a squat, eight-story unit dwarfed by neighboring bayfront towers, is the Georgian's Florida headquarters. But a floor-by-floor search shows there's nothing there. And no one answers the phone.
The pudgy history professor's new campaign chief, Jose Mallea, doesn't pick up either.
Same goes for Gingrich's Florida finance chairwoman, lobbyist Esther Nuhfer.
Moreover, Mallea has a house near Little Havana in foreclosure, and Nuhfer is closely tied to Republican U.S. Rep. David Rivera, perhaps Florida's most tainted politico.
"Polls aside, I don't see any evidence of actual enthusiasm for Newt Gingrich down here," says Sean Foreman, a political science assistant professor at Barry University. "He doesn't have events here, and I've never heard from a Gingrich supporter in South Florida."
You know Newt. He helped bring Republicans to power in 1994 through his "Contract With America." And he ruled the GOP with a flabby fist for five years before bolting the Capitol after leading the impeachment of Bill Clinton.
The plucky prof's push to head the Republican ticket against Barack Obama has also been a drunken rodeo ride. In June, his staff resigned and he reported a $1 million campaign debt. He racked up $500,000 in bills at Tiffany's buying jewelry for his current wife, Callista (who was his mistress while his second wife was suffering from multiple sclerosis). Then it was disclosed he had taken at least $1.6 million in lobbying fees from Freddie Mac, even as the rancid mortgage giant wrecked the economy. Last month, Gingrich even survived calling child labor laws "stupid."
Nothing has stuck. A Florida Times-Union poll last month showed Gingrich destroying his rivals in the state, with 41 percent support to 17 percent for Mitt Romney, his closest challenger.
But Gingrich obviously knows that backing comes mostly from North Florida. Romney, by contrast, has campaigned hard for Miami, scoring a coup last month when the Diaz-Balart brothers and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen endorsed him.
Meanwhile, Newt's counterplan — to hitch his star to Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — could easily backfire. Just look at the Miami insiders he has hired in the past week:
Mallea is a young campaigner who guided Rubio's Tea Party-fueled win over Charlie Crist last year. Gingrich hired him last Monday to head the campaign's Florida efforts, and the benefits were quick — Gingrich scored dozens of headlines with his name next to Rubio's.
But the local press missed a key fact: Mallea has some financial woes of his own. In 2008, at the height of Miami's bubble, Mallea copurchased a small house near SW 21st Avenue and 13th Street for $290,000. Today the single-story home is worth only $159,000, and Mallea's lender, Branch Banking & Trust Company, is suing him in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
But that pales in comparison to the taint on Gingrich's new finance chief. Nuhfer has a long, tight relationship with Rivera, who has called her a "good friend," a "fundraising consultant," and even a "travel coordinator," according to the Miami Herald. (Political blogger Joy Reid offers another label: girlfriend. This is bolstered by a photo where she appears to have her hand on his thigh at a Miami Dade College black-tie event.) Labels aside, everyone agrees that while Rivera (who's not married) was a powerful budget chairman from 2008 to 2009, the busty lobbyist worked out of his office and roomed with his top aide.
"Esther is Rivera's top ally," says state Rep. Luis Garcia, a Democrat planning to run against Rivera next fall. "They were extremely close in Tallahassee."
Whatever their relationship, Nuhfer's ties to Rivera have been lucrative. In a bid for state Senate, Rivera paid her $250,000 in consulting fees. In all, Nuhfer's firm — Communication Solutions, Inc. — took in more than $800,000 in fees since 2006 from Rivera and his GOP allies, the Herald reported.
Did any of that money get kicked back to Rivera, whose finances are being probed by — get ready — the FBI, the IRS, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and Miami prosecutors? Among the many questions surrounding the dapper rep: Why did Flagler Dog Track pay a half-million bucks to a company his mom owns at the same time he was fighting for its interests in the Capitol?
A second criminal probe is looking at more than $100,000 in unreported campaign donations, some of which was spent on advertising through Nuhfer's company.
There's already some early evidence that local voters might ignore Mallea's foreclosures and Nuhfer's ties to Rivera. Last Monday, Nuhfer helped Rivera's still-golden BFF Rubio raise more than $200,000 at an Epic Hotel lunch, all while talking up her new political patron.
"The South Florida Cuban vote is up for grabs," Barry's Foreman says. "There's a chance that voters hate the other candidates enough they may actually stick with Gingrich."
Stupid article by a lazy liberal author. Completely bogus. There are a LOT of Newt supporters in Florida. And I have attended debate watching parties, there have been speaking events, people are manning phone banks from home via the web. And the fact that Newt is working with Marco Rubio's people should signal anything but a failed campaign.
Terrible article. Stop the liberal spin.
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Gingrich is a joke. Why would anyone want a President who was the only Speaker to be fined $300K for ethics violatons?
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The Cuban vote should go with Ron Paul he wants to have free trade with cuba, thier families could visit here, Americans could go to Cuba that would be nice, peace on earth.Ron Paul 2012
This entire article is factually untrue. Let's first bring focus that Newt has been winning in Florida with an almost 50% support rate which is higher than other state in this Country at this point. Let's also bring light that there is a ground game and if this writer did his research before posting- he would have easily seen the list of County Chairs that is available at Newt.org. Finally, Newt has been in Florida as early as last month with his stops in Jacksonville and Naples with both sites having to be upped for larger facilities because of the huge voter turn out.
If these points are factually untrue then it is safe to assume that the rest of his 'facts' are taken out of context and twisted.
to newt grimaceRich
The two symbols of the Republican Party: an elephant, and a big fat white guy who is threatened by change
Facts not falsehoods.After a year long investigation by Pelosi she leveled 84 violation charges against Newt. 83 of which were dropped. The ONE remaining allegation was proven to be false by the IRS and dropped. But sadly by that time Nancy and her witch hunt were winning the war of public opinion, the republicans caved and sacrificed him. Ironically, Nancy Pelosi doesn't see any reason to get rid of Charlie Rangel. A House ethics panel found senior Democratic lawmaker Rangel violated House ethics rules, on 11 of the 13 counts lodged against him. Explain that one.