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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN 

Remembering the Kirkpatrick Endorsement of Gingrich

May 12, 2011

As I watched former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President, my thoughts went to the brief time I worked for the former Congressman.

It was September of 1985, and he was running for re-election to his fifth term in the House of Representatives.

He hired me to manage a major fundraising event, and the guest speaker was former Ambassador to the United Nations, Dr. Jeane J. Kirkpatrick. She had just resigned as U.N. ambassador and was working on a book about her experiences in the Reagan administration.

Congressman Gingrich was the first paying client of my then fledging political consulting business and I was paid $10,500 for the six weeks it would take to coordinate the event. I would spend the entire time working in Atlanta.

He was very clear about the goal, and he outlined it at our first meeting. He wanted to raise $100,000, a large sum at the time, and an amount his campaign committee had not previously raised in a single event.

The fundraiser was to be held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in downtown Atlanta; the first time he’d held such an event outside his home district near Riverdale, Georgia.

Tickets were $500 per person for the dinner and reception, and $100 per person for the reception only. We also arranged for the $500 contributors to have their picture taken with Dr. Kirkpatrick and Congressman Gingrich at a private reception prior to the dinner.

I worked out of the Georgia Republican headquarters and sometimes in the Congressman’s campaign office in Riverdale.

He was easy to work for and believed in delegating authority. He set broad perimeters and gave everyone space to get the job done. I found him somewhat shy, which is not necessarily the way he is looked at these days.

But he wanted the event to be a success and was determined to take full advantage of the campaign appearance by Dr. Kirkpatrick. Gingrich had a professorial background, as did Dr. Kirkpatrick, who taught at Georgetown University until her U.N. appointment. He respected her immensely.

She had spent most of the preceding summer in France, and this was her first foray into national Republican politics. She was often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, or a likely vice presidential nominee.

We put together a top flight fundraising committee consisting of the state’s biggest political donors. We held an organizational meeting at the Atlanta Commerce Club, and legendary Republican National Committeewoman, the late Marguerite Williams, and Coca Cola executive Earl Leonard, served as co-chairpersons.

The young Congressman was uncomfortable personally asking for political contributions yet he felt this was his time to move onto the center stage, in Georgia, and nationally.

He was also determined to scare away potential Democrat challengers in the upcoming congressional election. He theorized that raising a large amount of money at this event, and the publicity surrounding it, would accomplish that goal.

As the RSVP’s rolled in, along with the financial returns, the Congressman kept a close eye on the totals.

As we approached the coveted $100,000 mark, he called an emergency meeting to discuss strategy for the final week. He was anxious to not only meet the financial goal but also exceed it.

Amid the usual stress of last minute ticket sales, I was working late into the night during that final week.

As I worked alone one evening, well past midnight, a car slowly passed the campaign office. Inside, looking my way was the future Speaker of the House, no doubt taking comfort that his political consultant was carrying out last minute details.

In the end, it was an overwhelming success.The fundraiser brought in $125,000, and received tremendous coverage in the Atlanta media.

Dr. Kirkpatrick told the 600 attendees, in part, “I am here because I believe Newt Gingrich is good for Georgia and good for the country.”

Now, Republicans will decide if Dr. Kirkpatrick’s 1985 prophecy is the right one for 2012.