Carl Paladino on the deer-in-headlights look of Mitt Romney, and the superiority of Newt Gingrich

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Carl Paladino at a Ben and Jerry's in New Hampshire. (Reid Pillifant)
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MANCHESTER, N.H.—On Sunday afternoon, Carl Paladino was sitting in the front office of Newt Gingrich's headquarters on Elm Street, flipping through his phone, until I arrived to meet him, at which point he excused us, and explained that the campaign staff doesn't particularly like reporters hanging around in there.

"They act like there's some big secret happening, but I haven't seen it," said Paladino, who arrived in New Hampshire yesterday, with an eye toward connecting the campaign to his own supporters when the presidential primary eventually rolls toward New York.

"We're getting ready for New York, and we're probably going to head up a good portion of New York for the Gingrich campaign," he told me inside a Ben and Jerry's a few doors down. "So just wanted to come up and get familiar with some of the faces and help put our organization together with theirs."

Paladino, who ran a poor but memorable campaign for governor as the Republican nominee against Andrew Cuomo, said he wasn't here volunteering in the traditional sense—though some of the five people who accompanied him from Western New York were making calls or knocking on doors. Rather, he was "working on establishing some of the parameters for what we're going to be doing with delegates and the organization, and how we're going to run things."

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I asked Paladino, a wealthy real estate developer in Buffalo, if he planned on contributing to Gingrich's super P.A.C., to help the former speaker beat back some of the attacks on him by Romney and others that appear to have done such damage to his prospects.

"I'm going to give him something more than that," Paladino said. "I'm going to give him access to our network."

Paladino still maintains an email list of supporters who helped him storm to a landslide victory in the gubernatorial primary last year (much to the horror of New York Republican establishment), and he hopes to mobilize them for another fight.

"We won that Republican primary and we have a lot of people who follow us in our thinking," Paladino said. "And I intend to ask those people to jump on board and come with us, with Newt Gingrich, and throw this establishment in New York out.

"One of the reasons I'm on this thing is because when I called our Republican leadership in New York State, I found they're all jumping on Mitt Romney's bandwagon. I said, 'What the hell is the matter with you people? What are you doing getting on somebody's bandwagon? You're supposed to be serving the Republican rank and file.' And they looked at me like a deer in the headlights, just like Romney looks at you."

(In an interview with Talking Points Memo's Benjy Sarlin, Paladino called the New York G.O.P.'s decision to back Romney "absolutely stupid.")

In Paladino's view, all the non-Gingrich candidates are fatally flawed.

"Mitt Romney is owned lock, stock and barrel by the plastic factory known as the Republican establishment."

"Santorum is a very, very conservative young man. He might have his day sometime in the future, but his day is not now. He seems bright. He seems charismatic. But he's too polarizing. He's not really a candidate we would want to attract middle-of-the-road independents in this election."

"Huntsman is way beyond his pay grade getting involved here, looking for the sympathy vote. He's the Democratic representative in this whole array."

"Paul, he just got off the mothership. He should get back on the mothership and go back to his home planet."

"Perry, he's just sticking in to get a job."

As for Gingrich, Paladino calls him "brilliant," and cited Gingrich's recent show of emotion, in discussing his late mother, as a sign of strength.

"When a man gets up and he cries about his mom, because it's a sensitive issue, that shows strength to me," said Paladino, who at one point ignored a call on his cell phone, which rings with the sound of his dog barking. "As one of the girls in my office said, 'He's huggable.'"

And yet, Paladino said, there's a tough side to Gingrich which reminds him of, well, Carl Paladino.

"I've had my degree of success in life, I'm a happy guy," Paladino said. "If I can help the world a little bit with my success, that's what I want to do. I'm an in-your-face type of person, I'm not intimidatable. I'm probably very much like this guy Newt Gingrich."