Romney Pivots To Deal With The Gingrich Threat

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )

Mitt Romney's campaign has woken up to the fact that less than a month before the first nominating contest of the presidential primary, they have a major problem on their hands: Newt Gingrich.

"This will probably take longer than a week or two to sort out," Romney said at an event in Arizona yesterday. "My expectation is that it's going to be a campaign that is going to go on for a while."

The statement represents Romney's most candid assessment yet of his own failure to seal the deal with the Republican electorate as he heads into the heart of the primary season and it follows on a series of polls released this week showing Gingrich gaining momentum nationally and in key states.

According to Politico, "A Romney insider, who asked not to be identified, said the campaign is aware that something must be done to stop Gingrich's rise and that a series meetings about how to proceed were held over the weekend."

And ABC's John Berman reports on several changes we are likely to see from Team Romney as top aides work to retool the campaign. Here's the rundown:

-Romney will not go after Gingrich on personal issues, but ABC News has learned that you can expect to see Romney surrogates making fairly direct references to Gingrich's tumultuous past. You can also expect to see Ann Romney and the Romney family on the trail much more, especially in South Carolina, to create a visual contrast.

-The Romney team sees Gingrich's temperament as a weakness. Romney, himself, will highlight the importance of temperament by discussing his record as a leader. Surrogates are likely to go after Newt directly.

-You will see the Romney team begin to utilize their huge financial advantage. One Republican says expect ads in South Carolina soon. Not because they think it will guarantee victory - polls show them trailing there - but because they are concerned with keeping it close.

-The Romney team will flex its organizational muscle, especially in Florida where they have an extensive infrastructure.

And Romney is already getting help from some of his rival candidates. In particular, Ron Paul's campaign has been doing an effective job of showing a contrast with Gingrich.

When asked by The Note if Paul was going to train his fire solely on Gingrich, Paul's campaign chairman Jesse Benton replied: "We will continue to get out his positive pro-America message while contrasting his principled consistency with the rest of the flip-flopping field."

ABC's Jake Tapper reported for "World News" on Gingrich's rise and the fresh attacks he's facing from his opponents. WATCH:


@ BarbaraJWalters : Defiant Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Denies Ordering Bloody Crackdown - ABC News (via  @ABC)


GOP CANDIDATES STORM WASHINGTON, DC. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann are all in Washington today for the Republican Jewish Coalition's Presidential Candidates Forum. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also delivers an address. Here's how the day will go (all times Eastern):

9:15 AM  Rick Santorum 9:45 AM  Jon Huntsman 10:25 AM  Mitt Romney 11:45 AM  Lunch Honoring Ambassador Sam Fox featuring NJ Gov. Chris Christie 2:05 PM Newt Gingrich 2:45 PM Rick Perry 3:25 PM Michele Bachman

@tymatsdorf: I wonder if we will see this same "constancy" tomorrow during Romney' speech


NEWT WINNING THE FOX NEWS PRIMARY. "I'll be on Fox a lot because you guys matter when it comes to Republican primary voters," Romney said in Arizona yesterday, after agreeing to appear on the network's Sunday show later this month. The New York Times' Michael D. Shear reports today: "Among Republican voters in Iowa, nearly 40 percent say they get most of their news from the network and its many conservative hosts, according to the most recent New York Times poll. And among those viewers, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, is trouncing Mr. Romney. Nearly half of the Fox News watchers said they would vote for Mr. Gingrich if the state's Republican presidential caucus were held today. Just 12 percent of the regular Fox watchers said that Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is their choice to be the Republican standard-bearer."


DEMOCRATIC COUNTER-PROGRAMMING IN IOWA. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stumps for Mitt Romney in Iowa this evening, and Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky is circulating a memo asking whether Christie will "answer the tough questions Romney refuses to answer?" Dvorsky assails Romney for what she says is his neglect of Iowa during this election cycle. "While he's been willing to invest money in Iowa, he has failed to invest his time meeting with Iowans and answering their tough questions about his rhetoric and his record," Dvorsky writes."As of today, Mitt Romney has only visited Iowa four times since announcing his latest run for President. His campaign is literally 'phoning-it-in.' On Monday, instead of coming to the state, he held a 'tele-town hall' with Iowans while fundraising at his soon-to-be-quadrupled beachfront La Jolla mansion." (Romney heads back to Iowa on Friday and Saturday to hold events and for the ABC News, Des Moines Register, Iowa Republican Party debate.)



ROMNEY AND GINGRICH COURT LOBBYISTS. "Republican presidential front-runners courting an anti-Washington mood among their primary voters are counting on Washington lobbyists to pay their bills," Bloomberg's Jonathan D. Salant and Kristin Jensen report. "Tonight, the hosts at a $1,000-a-head event for Newt Gingrich, being held two blocks from the White House, include former Louisiana Representative Robert Livingston, Kenneth Kies, a leading tax lobbyist, and Clint Robinson, Research In Motion (RIMM)'s vice president of government relations, according to a copy of the invitation.The three are among more than 60 lobbyists raising money for Gingrich and Republican rivals Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Together, they represent almost 500 companies, associations and interest groups that will be affected by the next president's policies; Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) alone has six of its outside lobbyists raising money for Republican candidates. 'The clients are the ones who are winning here,' said Craig Holman, who presses for stricter campaign finance laws at Public Citizen, an advocacy group based in Washington."

PAGING RICK PERRY? The Texas governor and presidential candidate has not held a public event since last Wednesday when he ended his two-day swing - likely his final trip to New Hampshire before returning in January to campaign for the primary, ABC's Arlette Saenz notes. Yesterday, Perry released a statement lambasting President Obama's decision to utilize foreign aid to promote and protect the human rights of the gay and lesbian community abroad.  Perry is in Washington, D.C. today to speak to the Republican Jewish Coalition along with most of his fellow presidential contenders. He will also meet with a group of Congress members in a meeting that was organized by Rep. Mick Mulvaney.  Later this evening, he will speak with the Congressional Health Care Caucus in the evening.

PROMINENT PERRY BACKER SHIFTS TO GINGRICH. "A delegate previously committed to Rick Perry has switched his allegiance and signed on with Newt Gingrich's campaign in New Hampshire," ABC's Arlette Saenz and Elicia Dover report. "Bob Burns, who is listed on Perry's New Hampshire delegate roster, which was submitted on Nov. 18, will be a deputy state director for Gingrich. 'Anybody who wants to come over, we're taking with open arms. But him coming from Perry was good for us, along with his stature and different positions he's held in the state. He will be helping out head a lot of the phone-banking,' Matt LeDuc, communications director for Gingrich in New Hampshire, told ABC News."

WHAT'S BEHIND NEWT'S RISE? The National Journal's Josh Kraushaar writes that for all of his flaws Newt Gingrich has one quality the GOP base loves: brashness. "If there's any commonality among the numerous conservative Republican front-runners, from Sarah Palin to Michele Bachmann to Donald Trump to Rick Perry to Herman Cain, it's an in-your-face confrontational approach against President Obama, congressional Democrats, and the media. Conservative authenticity, on steroids. All the Republican presidential underachievers are not hardwired for confrontation. Mitt Romney, despite his campaign's frequent attacks on President Obama, comes across as robotic and devoid of emotion. Jon Huntsman, who spent the last two years as a diplomat, oozes wimpiness on the debate stage. Tim Pawlenty, who was trying to court the tea party, couldn't even muster the courage to attack Romney's health care plan, head-on, at an early debate. A candidate 'needs to have a warrior ethos to be the GOP nominee. They have to be a fighter, and they have to have some substance,' said Republican media strategist Rick Wilson."

GOP SPLIT OVER PAYROLL TAX PROPOSAL. "A Republican Party that has for decades benefited from a commitment to lower taxes is now finding itself on the defensive on the issue, as members face a deep split over a Democratic plan to extend a payroll tax reduction," writes the Washington Post's Rosalind Helderman. "What might normally be a no-brainer for most congressional Republicans is being resisted by many tea-party-conscious members who oppose what they consider a short-term gimmick that would worsen the federal deficit and siphon money from Social Security. Republican leaders fear that the party, which has spent the past year fighting Democrats' proposals to raise taxes on the wealthy, cannot now allow the payroll tax to increase without handing Democrats a powerful election-year argument that the GOP supports lower taxes only for the rich."

CAN MITT FIND HIS FUNNY BONE? ABC's Matt Negrin writes that Romney's sense of humor is no laughing matter: "Since Romney first decided to run for president four years ago, he has been beset by criticism that he's too robotic and flat to be an effective candidate, despite his good looks. Unfortunately for him, his staid manner has gotten lots of air time since June, as the candidate has taken part in 10 debates. The 11th is Saturday night, and if Romney wants to try to tango stylistically with Gingrich, who has shined in the debates like an Oscar winner surrounded by theater students, he's going to have to loosen up and think of some jokes that are better than, 'I'm Mitt Romney, and yes, Wolf, that's also my first name.' That advice isn't from political experts - it's courtesy of a handful of debate coaches and body language experts who note that Gingrich, the Republicans' current rising star, carries himself with more self-assurance than does Romney, the purported front-runner. 'He thinks he's tall and attractive. His confidence is extraordinarily high,' Patti Wood, a body language coach, said - of Gingrich, not Romney. 'He carries his body as if he's attractive. He smiles as if we enjoy looking at him. And that power is engaging to us.'"



@ Mbrooksrjc : Just a few hours to the  @RJCHQ big Pres Cand Forum. Little sleep ahead but very excited. Hope u can come or follow on twitter  #RJC2012

@ benpolitico : My story today on how key Dem groups, CAP and Media Matters are attacking party's AIPAC, pro-Israel consensus

@ BobCusack : McCain inches toward endorsing in primary. Sources say there is no way it'll be Gingrich, expect Romney to get nod.

@ globeglen : CAMPAIGN 2012: Check out election features: NH Primary, Debate recap, Candidate profile pages…  #magov  #mapoli

@ markknoller : Rainy and mild in DC this AM. Adds to rush hour woes. Snow possible tonight. Much prefer rush hour in Osawatomie, KS. Zero traffic.



* Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann are all in Washington DC where they'll speak at the Republican Jewish Coalition's Presidential Candidates Forum.

* New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will deliver the keynote address at the Republican Jewish Coalition's forum in Washington. After the forum, Christie will travel to Iowa where he'll host an evening rally on behalf of Mitt Romney.

-ABC's Josh Haskell


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