STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And as the president does that, the race for the Republican presidential nomination continues. Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are the leaders in the race for that nomination. They faced each other in a debate in Des Moines, Iowa Saturday night.
Each is now pushing hard, hoping to do well, maybe even win Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses three weeks from tomorrow. But each is trying to do that without something that's long been considered automatically necessary - an active and extensive ground organization. Here's NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Yesterday afternoon, the brand new Gingrich 2012 Iowa campaign headquarters in Urbandale were quiet. Volunteer Sandra Zeigler was among the handful of people there.
SANDRA ZEIGLER: We're kind of in the aftermath of the big event. We just had our grand opening and Speaker Gingrich was here yesterday, and so we had to move everything out to accommodate our crowd. So, I'm actually here just putting together - putting stuff back together.
GONYEA: Oh, OK. OK.
ZEIGLER: Yup, to get ready for our phone banking tomorrow.
GONYEA: Prior to last week, Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker didn't have much organization to speak of in Iowa. Nor had he spent much time here. But now, with a surging campaign and a lead in the polls, things typically done many months ago are only now being done.
But Katie Koberg, Gingrich's Iowa communications director, says that's okay. That this campaign really is different.
KATIE KOBERG: We have a game plan - all you reporters asking me this. We have a game plan. I promise. We are running plays, absolutely. But we are not turning over the playbook before the big game.
GONYEA: At another Iowa campaign headquarters over the weekend, this one in downtown Des Moines, another candidate dropped by to meet with volunteers.
(SOUNDBITE OF VOLUNTEERS CLAPPING AND CHANTING, APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)
GONYEA: Mitt Romney was joined by his wife Ann and his son Josh.
MITT ROMNEY: My...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
M. ROMNEY: My tallest son, the guy who visited all 99 counties of Iowa, a wonderful boy, a hero - my son, Josh.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JOSH ROMNEY: You know, it's a thrill to be able to be out on the campaign trail, if you can only imagine. People ask me all the time what it's like for your dad to run for president. Oh, I'll tell you it is a thrill...
GONYEA: But if Josh Romney has hit all of Iowa's counties this year, Mitt Romney has been to just six. Though now he's making a late final push in the state. It's based on the hope that evangelicals and the Tea Party, neither of which show much liking for Romney, will split their votes.
Here's the former Massachusetts governor's message to campaign workers.
M. ROMNEY: Thank you for the work you have done, for the work you are going to do. This is going to be a busy time. Make time everyday to pick up the phone and call just a few neighbors or friends.
GONYEA: Of the other candidates, Congressman Ron Paul, running very close to Romney in Iowa, does have a solid statewide organization, as do Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Texas Governor Rick Perry.
The governor drew a crowd of people yesterday afternoon to a diner in the city of Ames.
(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATIONS)
GONYEA: Among those awaiting his arrival was former Herman Cain supporter, 62-year-old Brenda McGuire, who's now undecided.
BRENDA MCGUIRE: Pretty much hearing from everybody; I'm getting emails from Santorum and Bachmann. And let's see, I'm getting literature from Perry. I got it from Cain, got it from Paul - haven't gotten any from Romney or Gingrich.
GONYEA: You said you have not received mailings from them, really.
MCGUIRE: Have we - I don't know that we've gotten any from either one of them.
GONYEA: After Perry's short speech, McGuire said she still doesn't know who she'll support, but she has ruled out Romney and Gingrich. And she doesn't like the fact that people are now calling it a two-man race.
MCGUIRE: It really ticks me off because it seems like everybody on the East Coast thinks they need to tell us who to vote for, and we don't like that out here. We're nice. We like to make up our own minds.
GONYEA: Meanwhile, Perry works the room shaking hands.
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Yes, ma'am. You're welcome.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you once again...
GONYEA: He even autographs some fake $10,000 bills, a reference to Saturday's debate when Romney offered to bet him 10-grand to prove a point.
Meantime, the caucuses approach. And a majority of voters say they still could change their minds, making the work of these candidates and their organizations even tougher.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Des Moines.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.