‘World News’ Political Insights — Gingrich Positioned as Romney Alternative

Nov 27, 2011 7:40pm

New Hampshire Endorsement Boosts Former Speaker Into Top Tier

Analysis

The Republican Party’s search for the anti-Romney may be over. And it could end in a familiar place for the GOP.

Against all odds and all political judgments, it’s Newt Gingrich still standing alongside Mitt Romney for front-running status, just five weeks before the first votes of the GOP primary season.

Gingrich this weekend snagged the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader, the most influential newspaper in the Granite State when it comes to Republican Party politics.

“We would rather back someone with whom we may sometimes disagree than one who tells us what he thinks we want to hear,” the newspaper wrote in a front-page editorial today that didn’t mention Romney as its target, but may as well have.

The Union Leader is hardly a picker of presidents. In the past seven competitive Republican presidential contests, going back 35 years, the Union Leader chose the eventual nominee only twice, and picked the winner in New Hampshire only three times.

Pete du Pont (1988), Pat Buchanan (1992 and 1996) and Steve Forbes (2000) are among the notable cases where the newspaper went in a markedly different direction than voters. Buchanan did win the New Hampshire primary in his second try, and the newspaper’s backing gave him momentum against strong establishment alternatives in both of his bids.

The Gingrich endorsement is significant in two main respects. First, it’s a clear snub to Romney, now a New Hampshire resident who’s the clear leader in polls in the state, and who sees the state as his early bulkhead.

More importantly, it’s the kind of boost that validates the campaign Gingrich has been running, and appears likely to confirm and solidify Gingrich as the main alternative to Romney. All of the other candidates have been vying for that position, to take on a frontrunner whom three-fourths of the GOP primary voters consistently say isn’t their first choice.

It continues a remarkable turnaround for Gingrich, whose smarts and sensibilities about how to appeal to the Republican base have made up for his relative lack of funding, and a non-traditional campaign infrastructure.

Gingrich has brought his unique mix of policy bravado, well-crafted hyperboles, and biting media critiques to display his intellectual firepower, most notably at the debates where he’s taken advantage of the free exposure. His own top staffers left his campaign for dead in the early going, but he’s plowed ahead with a campaign that still stands a real shot.

He’s managed to distinguish himself while ducking probing questions about his own background and record, and rising above the candidate-to-candidate squabbles that turn voters off.

On the flip side, the endorsement ensures more scrutiny for Gingrich. His business and personal baggage, combined with a longstanding lack of campaign discipline, mean ups and downs are still in store for Gingrich, in the weeks where Iowa and New Hampshire voters settle on their choices.

The dynamic in Iowa, which famously rejected Romney’s big spending and big time commitment four years ago, is even more favorably inclined toward choosing someone other than the former governor of Massachusetts.

A group of influential conservatives met privately last week to plot strategy around coalescing behind a candidate other than Romney.

Gingrich’s past personal transgressions make him a less-than-likely choice for social conservatives, of course. But the point is that the chances for someone other than Romney remain real.

Romney is still the man to beat in the GOP contest. No one else combines the resources, the infrastructure, the strength in polls, and the experience of having recently gone through all of this before.

But it’s more clear than ever that Romney won’t waltz to the nomination without a fight. And it’s a face more familiar than Romney’s that’s poised to take him on most seriously, with Gingrich not-quite smiling to the end.

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