Speaker Newt Gingrich may be revered by Republicans on Capitol Hill, but polls suggest that his remarkably high profile has carried a price among voters.
At the Kmart here in this solidly Republican suburb outside Philadelphia the other day, even people who said they liked the speaker were leery of him.
“He’s entertaining, he speaks his mind, he makes politics interesting,” said Chuck Towne, a 61-year-old sales representative who identified himself as a Republican. “But I don’t think he’s good for the country.”
Another professed Republican, Twila Emuryan, a 48-year-old nurse, was less entertained. “I think he’s using his situation as speaker of the House to his own personal advantage,” she said. “I don’t think he understands life. He wants to stop supporting the food program for schools. Why starve the kids? And welfare. You just can’t pull the plug on everyone.”
Such views reflect the findings in the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll not only that the 51-yearold Georgian is unpopular outside Washington but also that women react far more negatively to him than do men.
But beyond that, they illustrate just what a bad first impression Gingrich has made since he grabbed the political spotlight after the November elections. This shows up not only in national surveys but also in the sour comments heard even in a place like Broomall, an overwhelmingly Republican suburb that stuck with George Bush in 1992 even as neighboring Republican towns went Democratic.
Broomall is in the heart of Delaware County, home to one of America’s most enduring Republican machines, where party discipline is a way of life.
Gingrich’s negative ratings surpass those of almost every other contemporary political figure, with the possible exception of the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The Times poll, conducted by telephone last month among 1,190 adults around the country, found that 22 percent viewed him positively and 33 percent negatively; the rest had no opinion. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this month found that 27 percent viewed him positively and 41 percent negatively.
In every region of the country, according to the Times survey, more people thought badly of Gingrich than thought well of him. The Journal poll showed that more people thought worse of him than of President Clinton.
“I don’t think there’s ever been anyone who’s become so unpopular so fast without being a mass murderer,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster. “It’s unparalleled.”
To be sure, some voters here appreciate Gingrich’s drive.
“He’s making a difference down there, relative to what we had before,” said James Bryan, 70, a retired chemical engineer.
But in an afternoon of three dozen random interviews, more people seemed unhappy. “I think he’s a slime,” Louise Hartley, a 47-year-old waitress, said as she headed into the Kmart. “I don’t trust him as far as I can see him.”
Gingrich’s press secretary, Tony Blankley, has attributed this intense reaction in part to a peculiar confluence of events: When Gingrich became the first Republican speaker in 40 years, he was instantly subjected to presidential-level press scrutiny without the benefit of a presidential campaign to introduce himself first on his own terms.
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