The Newt Pile-On Begins

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

Almost every day this week has brought good news for Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign in the form of a new poll giving him an edge over rival Mitt Romney. Yesterday, Gingrich scored a trifecta. And today there's more.

Three separate polls in key early nominating states - Iowa, South Carolina and Florida - showed Gingrich with a double-digit edge over Romney yesterday. The former House Speaker leads by 23 percent in both Florida and South Carolina and by a healthy 13 percent in Iowa, according to fresh numbers from CNN-Time Magazine polls.

And here's today's headline from Quinnipiac University: "Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich holds double-digit leads over the Republican primary field and cuts sharply into President Barack Obama's general election lead should he win the GOP nomination, according to today's Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In head-to-head matchups, Republican voters choose Gingrich over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by margins of 18-27 percentage points."

No way Romney is going to let Gingrich soak up all that positive attention without a response, right? Right.

The Romney campaign, which up until now has been reluctant to aim its fire on anyone but President Obama (save for a few shots at Rick Perry back when his campaign wasn't on life support) has enlisted the help of two prominent backers to do some Gingrich counter-programming.

This morning, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu and former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent will hold a press conference call to, according to Team Romney, "discuss Speaker Newt Gingrich's record." In other words, to trash him. (ABC's Jake Tapper previews the call below.)

And it's not just Romney and Co. who are suddenly discovering Gingrich. As The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg report today, "the White House and its allies are starting to turn their sights" on the former House Speaker in an effort that is "one part gleeful mischief-making and one part serious due diligence."

"Look, for the longest time, Gingrich was not really a factor in this race, he was left for dead at the checkout counter at Tiffany's," David Axelrod, a top Obama re-election strategist told The Times. "Now he is resurgent and he could be the nominee."

The pile-on campaign against Gingrich is in full swing among Republicans too. As we've already written this week, Ron Paul has been a particularly effective anti-Gingrich messenger with his slick web videos.

This week Michele Bachmann called Gingrich "a poster child for crony capitalism" and "the ultimate consummate influence peddler."

And today in a speech he is set to deliver at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, candidate Jon Huntsman accuses Gingrich of being a creature of Washington "who participated in the excesses of our broken and polarized political system."

As for Gingrich, he's not taking the bait - at least not when it comes to Romney. "Look, I think Mitt Romney is a very admirable person and I'm not going to pick a fight over Mitt Romney," Gingrich told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview yesterday.

WHAT ROMNEY'S SURROGATES WILL SAY. ABC's Jake Taper reports: A Gingrich adviser thinks Romney's new television ad, which focuses on images of Romney's family and his faith, is saying "my family is better than your family" - and the adviser says it will backfire. Voters care about leadership and the economy and as long as Newt is honest about his past failings they will accept and move on, the adviser says.

(That said the issue could have resonance with the Iowa conservative base because it's not just a failed marriage or two, there are allegations of behavior that the would view as immoral.)

Today, Gov. Sununu will attack Gingrich for being unreliable. He's all over Ne Hampshire media assailing Gingrich for reneging on the 1990 budget deal. As for Sununu being designated an attack dog, Gingrich says "bring it on"….   "Sununu doesn't like Gingrich because Newt wouldn't go along with his deal to raise taxes" a Gingrich adviser says  -Gingrich wouldn't go along with it and Sunnunu to this day is mad about it. Gingrich aides say the question today becomes: "Does Mitt Romney support raising taxes like in the 1990 budget deal"?

BY THE NUMBERS. If there was any doubt Newt Gingrich is the leading the Republican pack, here's a review of the new numbers from yesterday's CNN-Time state polls:

-Newt Gingrich leads Mitt Romney by 13 percent in Iowa, 33% to 20%

Paul (17%), Perry (9%), Bachmann (7%), Santorum (5%), Huntsman (1%)

-Gingrich leads Romney by 23 percent in South Carolina, 43% to 20% Perry (8%), Bachmann (6%), Paul (6%), Santorum (4%), Huntsman (1%)

-Gingrich leads Romney by 23 percent in Florida, 48% to 25%

Paul (5%), Bachmann (3%), Huntsman (3%), Perry (3%), Santorum (1%)

-Gingrich trails Romney by 9 percent in New Hampshire, 35% to 26%

Paul (17%), Huntsman (8%), Bachmann (3%), Perry (2%), Santorum (2%)

Full results:

CALLISTA GINGRICH ON NEWT: 'I Pray God Gives Him The Strength…To Keep Up' The Christian Broadcasting Network's Jennifer Wishon interviewed Callista Gingrich this week and asked the presidential candidate's wife "how do you pray for your husband"? Callista Gingrich said: "I pray that God gives him the strength, the physical strength to keep up with the presidential campaign, as you know the hours are long, the days are long, he's on the road seven days a week for the most part. I join him often on the road, but I'm also running our company, \ Gingrich Productions right now so I can't always be there with him. We do enjoy being together on the campaign trail so I pray that God gives him the guidance and the strength to be the best person he can be on this campaign."

HUNTSMAN TO OFFER SCATHING CRITIQUE OF OBAMA, ROMNEY & GINGRICH. Jon Huntsman is delivering a speech today that his campaign is billing as an indictment - not only of President Obama - but also of leading GOP rivals Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. ABC News got a sneak peek at excerpts of the speech Huntsman plans to give at the National Press Club in Washington, DC at 12 p.m. ET as well as a video the campaign is releasing this morning.

The remarks represent Huntsman's closing argument to voters before Republicans begin the process of selecting a nominee. Huntsman accuses President Obama of squandering the trust of the American people. But the former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China whose presidential hopes hinge on his performance in Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary does not spare his Republican opponents either.

"My opponents offer no better," Huntsman will say. "Governor Romney will say anything to earn the voters trust. We are in this mess because there are already enough people in Washington who make a career out of telling people what they want to hear. Newt Gingrich is a product of that same Washington, who participated in the excesses of our broken and polarized political system."

EXCLUSIVE: The Huntsman campaign has produced a 2-minute video, titled "Restoring Trust," to accompany the speech, underscoring many of the themes he will talk about in his address. WATCH:

(Be sure to check out the shots of a much younger Huntsman in the 1980's, then an aide in the Reagan administration - 1 minute mark; the images of Huntsman's family later in the video; and a cameo by ABC's own Jon Karl - 1:37.)

NOTED: HOPE FOR PERRY? ABC Political Director Amy Walter points out that it's clear Texas Gov. Rick Perry hopes to benefit from a Newt-Romney battle. Instead of engaging Newt - or anyone else - the Perry camp has dumped another $1 million in ads on Iowa TV highlighting his faith and beating up on Obama Administration.  If voters get turned off by the negative attacks, they may see Perry as a viable alternative.

DEBATE WATCH: We're just days away from Saturday night's ABC News-Yahoo! News-Des Moines Register-WOI-TV-Iowa Republican Party debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. Today Politico's Maggie Haberman previews the night: "In a Republican presidential campaign marked by eventful debates, Saturday's forum stands to outdo all the others that came before it. The drama is unmistakably building. The ABC News/Des Moines Register debate at Drake University comes as Newt Gingrich surges in the polls and attempts to solidify his frontrunner status, while Mitt Romney seeks to regain his footing. …. But the Des Moines debate stands out for a another reason: it's the first to reflect the new campaign order now that the GOP race has narrowed to a two-man contest between Gingrich and Romney. Far and away the strongest debaters over the course of the 11 prior televised debates, the pair will for the first time stand side-by-side on center stage. The stakes are high for both: Gingrich can no longer expect the free pass he's received so far in debates and Romney will have strong incentives to draw a sharp contrast now that Gingrich has passed him in the polls. 'This is the biggest alpha dog battle of the campaign so far,' said Republican strategist Alex Castellanos."


THE ROMNEY MACHINE. "Mitt Romney has a not-so-secret weapon against Newt Gingrich. The former Massachusetts governor has built a mammoth political machine unrivaled in the GOP field, a campaign that's well entrenched in the four states to vote in January - Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida - and touches dozens of other states that his opponents have largely ignored," reports the Associated Press' Steve Peoples. "At its national headquarters, Romney's team is executing a strategy that takes advantage of new party rules that award convention delegates in a different way. And supporters from Alabama to Alaska say they're prepared for an extended primary battle that could go well into the summer. … Indeed, new proportional voting rules give candidates a chance to claim partial victories in states that previously featured a winner-take-all system. Top officials inside the Romney administration and the Republican National Committee argue that the new system encourages a long march to victory, similar to the Democratic battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008. It's a path that played well for Obama's nationwide network four years ago. And it's one that Romney hopes to emulate in the coming months, regardless of how things turn out in Iowa or New Hampshire."

CHRIS CHRISTIE GETS OCCUPIED. "There was no lack of exuberance last night in the Hawkeye State, where New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came out swinging during a campaign stop on behalf of Mitt Romney, making veiled references about who might embarrass the country as president and referring to President Obama as a disappointment," ABC's Emily Friedman reports from West Des Moines, Iowa. "'First and foremost, when we look at these candidates, say, 'Is this the kind of person that is always going to make me proud in the Oval Office and I'm never going to worry will embarrass America, that I never have to worry will do something that will make me ashamed?'" said Christie, speaking at the headquarters for Kum & Go, a gas and convenience chain in West Des Moines. 'He just won't,' said Christie of Romney. 'Maybe we should expect that from all our leaders but we've learned over time we don't always get it,' Christie added … But Christie was perhaps most on his game when handling a group of raucous Occupy Iowa Caucus protestors, who butted in during his speech with chants of 'Put people first! Put people first!' … The protestors - about 25 people who had managed to blend in with the crowd, holding Romney for President signs and stickers - were quickly removed by police and told to leave the premises."

ROMNEY ON 'ROMNEYCARE.'  Mitt Romney sat down for a 40-minute interview with reporters and editors at the Washington Examiner yesterday. Here's a dispatch from the Examiner's chief political correspondent Byron York: " When Romney visited the Washington Examiner offices Wednesday morning, I asked what states would benefit by adopting the [health care] system he created in Massachusetts. "In its entirety, not very many," Romney answered.  "Because it's not even perfect for Massachusetts.  At the time we created it, I vetoed several measures and said these, I think, are mistakes, and you in Massachusetts will find you have to correct them over time.  But that's the nature of a piece of legislation of this nature.  You'll see what works, what doesn't, and you'll make the changes.  But they have not made those changes, and in some cases they made things worse.  So I wouldn't encourage any state to adopt it in toto." Transcript and audio of the full interview:

RON PAUL: THE FORGOTTEN CANDIDATE? "While portions of the national press corps have declared the GOP primary a two-man race between Newt Gingrich  and Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, the tenacious Texas Congressman on his third run for the White House, is quietly picking up speed," reports ABC's Jason Volack. "Paul has set his sights on Gingrich, releasing videos that criticize the former House Speaker for a career in politics and policy shifts. The two have not only sparred over the size of the federal government, but its scope. Paul unveiled an ad last week attacking Newt for being a serial hypocrite and for building his wealth through questionable lobbying efforts on behalf of the health care industry and mortgage giant Freddie Mac. 'He's been on a lot of different sides on all the issues,' Paul told ABC's Jon Karl today. 'He may be the opposite of what I've been doing for 30 years. My positions haven't changed all that much.'"

More from Jon Karl's interview with outspoken presidential candidate Ron Paul. WATCH:

ROMNEY AND HIS FAITH. The Los Angeles Times' Alana Semuels takes an in-depth look at Mitt Romney's relationship with Mormonism: " George W. Bush is a born-again Christian; President Obama has been a regular church-goer for decades;  Jimmy Cartertaught Sunday school. But no previous president or serious candidate can rival Romney for the time and energy spent in running a religious organization and ministering to its members. Over the course of two decades, Romney served as spiritual and administrative leader for a Boston-area church and then as the head of a dozen Mormon churches. The work often took up 30 hours a week of his time, or more. Had he not entered politics, Romney - a sixth-generation member of the Mormon Church whose ancestors were among the earliest members of the faith - might have put himself on a path to be chosen for the church's governing body in Salt Lake City, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles."

SARAH PALIN WON'T ENDORSE BEFORE IOWA. In an interview last night on the Fox Business Network, Sarah Palin announced she would not disclose who she is backing in the GOP primary in advance of the Jan. 3 Iowa Caucuses. "Not before Iowa. And Iowa's not the end of the road. It's the beginning of the road really," Palin said. "Newt Gingrich I believe has risen in the polls because he has been a bit more successful than Romney in reaching out to that base of constitutional conservatives who are part of the tea party movement. He hasn't been afraid of that movement." Her advice to Romney and the rest of the field: "Romney and others need to reach out and convince Tea Party Patriots and constitutional conservatives that he truly believes in smaller, smarter government." And her thoughts on Gingrich: "He can't portray himself as a Washington outsider when he has been an insider. However, some of the things he's done have been good things."

ON THE HILL: A LONG DECEMBER. A dispatch from ABC's Sunlen Miller on Capitol Hill: "The Senate Democratic leadership huddled with President Obama in the Oval Office yesterday on the payroll tax cut fight in Congress, emerging with a united message. 'We're going to stay here as long as it takes to get this done,' Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said.  'We will stay here to Christmas and even to New Years to get this done.' This goes for President Obama too, who told Democrats today that he will stay in Washington, D.C., and miss or delay his annual Hawaiian vacation if the payroll tax cut extension, which expires at the end of the year, is not passed before the holidays. … With dueling plans in the House and the Senate between parties, Senate Democrats today warned that the House of Representatives, and notably Speaker of the House Boehner will be 'embarrassed,' if the House adjourns for the year without passing a plan out of both houses of Congress."



@ ErinMcPike : Just found out that when Newt is in Washington, he drinks white zinfandel at DC Coast. Trust me, that is totally not "Washington insider."

@ elizcrum : I hear the  @DNC, including Debbie Wasserman Schultz will be in  #LasVegas this weekend, doing roundtables & firing up the troops.

@ FordOConnell : @KarlRove: Gingrich's Organization Deficit Disorder - (via  @WSJ)

@ hilaryr : Top Conservative is "sickened" by Repub field RT @RedState: My Endorsement for President  #TCOT  #RS"

@ tackettdc : Seth Stern finds echoes of today's Gingrich criticism in House ethics complaint. Memory lane. Bloomberg… #2012



-Newt Gingrich is in Greenville, South Carolina where he'll lead a forum with business leaders.

-Rick Perry will attend four events in South Carolina, including a "Veterans for Perry" press conference aboard the USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C., lunch in Beaufort, a town hall in Okatie and a dinner in Greenville.

-Rick Perry's wife Anita Perry hits the campaign trail in Iowa speaking at four events including a Republican Women's Christmas Party in Cedar Rapids.

-Ron Paul will deliver a speech at Iowa State University in Ames at an event geared toward attracting the "youth vote." He will hold an employee town hall with the Principal Financial Group in Des Moines in the afternoon and he will also make a stop in Boone for a town hall meeting.

-Jon Huntsman is in Washington, DC where he'll address the National Press Club to deliver what his campaign is billing as his "closing message" to voters.

-Rick Santorum campaigns in Iowa where he'll spend the evening with supporters at a house party in Dubuque.

-ABC's Josh Haskell & Joanna Suarez


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