They came for Jeff Mullen. They stayed for Newt Gingrich.
That was the consensus from a fundraising event held Wednesday at the Iowa Machine Shed in Urbandale morning for pastor and Iowa Senate candidate Jeff Mullen.
Former U.S. House Speaker and Republican presidential candidate Gingrich at first seemed merely a name on the invite of what was supposed to be Mullen’s official kick-off to his campaign for the District 22 Senate seat. But Gingrich’s presence and his newfound popularity seemed to overshadow Mullen.
“I’m absolutely neutral right now,” said West Des Moines resident Leonard Fazio of his choice for the Republican nomination. “I’ve wanted to see Newt Gingrich speak for a number of years, and I’m here to support Jeff, too."
In a recent survey of Republicans conducted by CNN and ORC International, Gingrich is gaining on the pack with a 22 percent share of supporters since mid-October (up from 8 percent). Mitt Romney leads with 24 percent support while Herman Cain trails Gingrich with 14 percent.
Rob Taylor of West Des Moines turned out Wednesday along with more than 100 other Mullen supporters to see what Gingrich had to say about everything from taxes to government spending to education. He was not disappointed.
“Of all the things that man said, it was simply, ‘I don’t want you to be for me, I want you to be with me',” Taylor said. “That’s a whole shift in the mindset. That’s a JFK moment. It’s getting us back to the core, getting citizens engaged in government, getting them out to vote.”
Flint Swasand of West Des Moines had his choice of candidates narrowed down to three, with Gingrich among them. He said he attended today’s event not only to support his pastor (Swasand attends Point of Grace Church), but also to hopefully get a more information to help him decide who to support in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.
“I think we’ll see what happens in the next couple months,” he concluded.
Gingrich further stole the show on his way out. Flanked by a crowd of reporters, he addressed questions about reports that he may have made as much as $1.8 million in consulting fees from contracts with mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
“I was approached to offer strategic advice. I was glad to offer strategic advice, and we did it for a number of companies and Gingrich Group was very successful,” he said.
When asked by a reporter whether or not he had been “bought,” he replied, “I don’t think that any more than your institutions being bought with people advertising.”
Does Gingrich think the news will affect his popularity? Probably not, he says.
“It reminds people that I know a great deal about Washington,” he said. “If you want to change Washington — we just tried four years of amateur ignorance and it didn’t work very well — so having somebody who actually knows Washington might be a really good thing.”
Gingrich will return to Iowa Saturday to take part in the Family Leader Forum, a discussion hosted by Fox News' Frank Luntz about the GOP presidential candidates' views on family issues. You can read Patch's live blog from the forum starting at 4 p.m.