Last summer, when all of the pundits had pretty much written off Newt Gingrich’s presidential candidacy, my niece, a college sophomore whom I always believed to be apolitical, remarked, “My friends and I like Newt – he tweets a lot on Twitter.”

I should have remembered that.

Two years earlier, I had heard Gingrich speak at the National Rural Health Association’s Annual Conference. At the beginning of his remarks, he took out his new mobile phone, and thus began a 30 minute dissertation on social media as the new paradigm in communications, and challenged us all to learn it, understand it and implement it.

Gingrich, ever the student of history, grasped early on the significance of President Obama’s use of social media as an effective tool for communications in the 2008 campaign.

Unlike Obama, Gingrich has had scarce resources and hasn’t had a cadre of aides, handlers and public relation firms to devise his social media campaign strategy. Instead, the 68 year-old former Speaker of the House from Georgia, whose campaign up until now has been just about a "one man band," learned everything he could about social media and how to effectively employ it. As a result, he is now the one Republican presidential candidate who has mastered its use, and the results speak for themselves.

Today, Gingrich has over 1.3 million followers on Twitter. His nearest rivals, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, have roughly 170,000 each, followed by Michele Bachmann with 114,000, Rick Perry with 104,000 and Ron Paul with 78,000.

Further, Gingrich was the first national politician to create an account on “Google+” and actually conducted two “hang outs” this summer where his fans were able to join a ten-way video conference with him and ask questions. Gingrich actually released videos of the sessions on YouTube. While the “inside the Beltway” experts were writing off the Gingrich candidacy, Newt was communicating “below radar” and expanding his support base through a new means of communication.

Then came the debate performances. While Gingrich was communicating with a generally younger audience via social media, older Americans appreciated his sense of history and intellect that has shown in each of the debates.

Many Americans are hurting right now. More and more people are tired of flash, gimmicks and TelePrompters. They want depth and substance in these challenging times.

Gingrich’s brilliance has come through in the debates. We have also seen this same brilliance and intellect on display during what he’s done off the debate platform, with his foresight to be the one Republican presidential candidate to master the new paradigm shift in communications.

Gingrich is connecting with all generations in both his debate performances and his master of social media. My twelve-year-old son accompanied me recently to the “Commander-in-Chief” GOP Presidential Debate at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.

As he was getting ready to go to bed that night, I asked him what he thought of the debate. He said, “Dad, you know that ol' Newt – he really gives you something to think about.” He’s right. That “ol' Newt” has given us all something to think about lately. He has connected with old and young alike and has given new meaning to the term “hands on.”

Van D. Hipp Jr. is chairman of American Defense International, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm specializing in government affairs, business development and public relations. He has formerly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army, chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, and as a member of the Presidential Electoral College. Follow him on Twitter at: @VanHipp.