AUSTIN, TEXAS — Austin, Texas. -- To understand the extraordinary impact of Newt Gingrich on the Republican party, you only have to check out the GOP candidates for open or Democratic House seats this fall.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, the model for aspiring Republican representatives was Jack Kemp. Now Mr. Gingrich is the model. He has a positive message, but he's also tough, partisan, impatient and a high-energy foe of everything liberal. ''Bomb-thrower is a word you often hear,'' says Dan Leonard of the National Republican Congressional Committee. In the midterm election Tuesday, there are hundreds of Gingrich-like bomb-throwers running for Congress.
Democrats are terrified. ''We can't turn over the House to 100-plus Newt Gingriches,'' Democratic Rep. Sandy Levin of Michigan recently told a rally in a Detroit suburb.
Mr. Levin has the Newtoids pegged wrong. They want to gain power, then tear the institution apart. They scorn the accommodationist approach of retiring House Republican Leader Bob Michel of Illinois. ''They're less interested in institutional niceties,'' says Stuart Rothenberg, a conservative political analyst. Steve Gill, challenging Democratic Rep. Bart Gordon in a Tennessee district outside Nashville, wants to revolutionize Congress, making it ''a part-time citizen-legislature'' with House terms limited to 10 years and Congress subject to ''every law which it has already applied to the rest of us.''
Mr. Gingrich's followers aren't all whitebread clones. Take Jo Baylor, who's seeking the House seat in Austin from which Democratic Rep. Jake Pickle is retiring. Ms. Baylor is a single mother. She runs her own real-estate business and owns a company that sells toilet seats. She speaks Spanish. She's pro-choice. She's eager to protect landowners from ''takings'' by the federal government. She introduced Mr. Gingrich at the Capitol rally during which more than 300 House candidates, including her, signed the GOP ''Contract with America.'' Ms. Baylor, 43, is also black.
Like many other Newtoids, Jo Baylor is seeking office for the first time. John Shadegg, 44, an attorney running for an open Republican seat in Phoenix, regards Mr. Gingrich as ''everybody's example in terms of ideas.'' Mr. Shadegg, whose father was a senior adviser to Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign in 1964, met with Mr. Gingrich a year ago in Washington. ''We wanted to talk to him about ideas. We wanted an agenda.''
The Georgian, Mr. Shadegg said, ''recognizes politics is controlled by ideas. He knows it's not just a matter of holding ideas, but doing something with them.'' Mr. Shadegg echoes Mr. Gingrich. ''The particular issue I'm interested in is cutting down the beast'' he told me. He was referring to the federal government. Mr. Shadegg signed the Contract with America, too.
Mr. Gingrich's effect on Republican candidates is no accident. For years, his scheduler has been under instructions to set time aside for any Republican congressional candidate who comes to Washington. ''Virtually every candidate has been through my office,'' he says.
Mr. Gill, who played basketball at the University of Tennessee with Bernard King, was a White House fellow when he got to know Mr. Gingrich in 1993. ''You could spend a day with a congressman or senator, and I thought he'd be neat to spend a day with,'' says Mr. Gill. He was impressed. ''I got an insider look at what he really does. He spends a lot of the day focusing on policy. As a pro-active conservative, he's a model, and correctly so.''
Much of Mr. Gingrich's influence comes from GOPAC, the political action committee he's headed since 1986. GOPAC holds seminars for candidates, distributes thousands of audio cassettes and videotapes and provides telephone access to Mr. Gingrich every Thursday evening. He is the star of the tapes. Joe Gaylord, a GOPAC honcho, says: ''One reason candidates are like him is that for eight years they've gotten training material from him that emphasizes that type of candidacy.'' Talk to a Re- publican House candidate and invariably he or she has devoured the GOPAC cassettes and videotapes. ''I'm like a believer and a fan,'' says Ms. Baylor. ''They have an ability to energize you.''
Candidates plagiarize Mr. Gingrich's best lines. A favorite is this staple: ''It is impossible to maintain civilization with 12-year-olds having babies, 15-year-olds killing each other, 17-year-olds dying of AIDS and 18-year-olds receiving diplomas they cannot read.''