DES MOINES, IOWA — In a ballroom at the Iowa Events Center in downtown Des Moines last night, a dozen or so reporters waited and wondered when the evening’s host, Newt Gingrich, might appear.

Just a few weeks earlier, Gingrich was enjoying an unlikely perch atop the polls, after a recovery from the near-collapse of his campaign over the summer. But his fall was almost as quick as his rise. In the face of increasing media scrutiny and tough—and occasionally misleading—ads from a group supporting
Mitt Romney, Gingrich resorted to increasingly outlandish rhetoric himself. His attacks on the judiciary, the media, and other targets produced a fourth-place finish that neither Gingrich nor his staff seemed eager to talk about.

Late in the evening, the candidate was finally rushed in for a 10-minute speech before heading off to New Hampshire, with no press availability and minimal press access to his advisers.

“You’ve got 30 seconds,” R.C. Hammond, Gingrich’s press secretary, said when I asked for his assessment of the result.

Earlier in the evening even Gingrich’s organizational team was nowhere to be found in the ballroom, leaving the small scrum of reporters—set up as the caucuses got under way statewide at 7 p.m.—to our own devices. A few Gingrich campaign staffers eventually appeared, only to dodge reporters’ questions until the candidate’s brain trust arrived.

As Gingrich supporters started trickling into the ballroom from their respective caucus sites around 8:30 p.m., they found themselves hounded by journalists eager for something (anything!) to report—especially as it became clear the former House Speaker wouldn’t finish in the top three.

Brett Palmer, a Gingrich staffer during his time as House Speaker, was one of the first supporters to show up and was quickly nabbed by TV and radio reporters.

Palmer, who caucused for Gingrich in Des Moines, expressed confidence despite the candidate’s fourth-place finish. He offered what’s become a mantra of the campaign: an assessment that negative ads took a toll on the former frontrunner, but that he’s not beat.

When the campaign brain trust finally arrived after 10 p.m., Hammond, Gingrich’s press secretary, took his 30 seconds (actually it was closer to 23) not to answer my question about where Gingrich goes after trailing Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum in the vote here, but, as press secretaries do, to do a little attacking of his own.

“Mitt Romney’s free ride ended in Iowa,” Hammond said. “What the Iowa Caucus taught us this year is there’s a solid coalition of conservatives who want change in Washington, and there’s a moderate wing who’s behind Mitt Romney and no one else is for him.”

No end in sight, apparently, for Gingrich.

Andrew Duffelmeyer has covered government and politics in Iowa for the Associated Press, the Iowa Independent, and IowaPolitics.com. He grew up in Ames, attended Drake University in Des Moines, and continues to live and work in Iowa's capital city.