How The ‘Mittness Protection Program’ Became The Mitt Blitz (The Note)

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

After spending much of the primary season lying low, Mitt Romney is in the midst of an all-out media blitz this week as his campaign attempts to stem rival Newt Gingrich's rise.

His uneven debate performance four days ago helped solidify the campaign's new strategy, which puts Romney front and center in television, radio and newspaper interviews like his sit-down with the Washington Post yesterday in which he called Gingrich an "extraordinarily unreliable leader in the conservative world."

"Even during the campaign, the number of times he has moved from one spot to another has been remarkable," Romney told the Post's Dan Balz and Phil Rucker. "I think he's shown a level of unreliability as a conservative leader today."

Romney has been blanketing Fox News with interviews every day this week, culminating with his appearance on "Fox News Sunday" this weekend - his first appearance on a Sunday news show since March 2010.

It's a far cry from late summer when Politico's Ben Smith characterized Romney's approach to the presidential campaign as "the Mittness Protection Program" - a period when Romney held few public appearances and participated in even fewer media interviews.

Not only has Romney launched himself into public view this week, his campaign has also taken the gloves off when it comes to Gingrich. A case-in-point: Team Romney is out with a new web video this morning titled "Newt And Nancy," reminding voters about the global warming ad the former House Speaker and Nancy Pelosi filmed together a few years ago.

"Filming an ad with Nancy Pelosi is another example of Newt Gingrich being an unreliable conservative and an unreliable leader," according to a statement from the Romney campaign accompanying the clip.

The reason for the new strategy is obvious: Almost every poll, including the ones in early primary states, show Gingrich in the lead, including an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll that put Gingrich at 40 percent nationally among GOP primary voters compared to 23 percent for Romney.

However, Romney insiders have been telling the Note this week to look for signs that Gingrich is starting to slip, and we've got one this morning. A fresh Gallup tracking poll shows Gingrich's lead over Romney decreasing from 15 percentage points (37 percent to 22 percent) to 9 percentage points (31 percent to 22 percent).

ABC's John Berman looked at the state of the GOP race on "Good Morning America" today. WATCH:


OBAMA UNFAVORABLES REACH HIGH. From ABC's pollster Gary Langer: "Unfavorable views of Barack Obama inched to their highest level of his presidency in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, but he's still more popular than his front-running potential Republican challenger, Newt Gingrich. And then there are views of the economy, which make both look almost good by comparison. Forty-nine percent of Americans now express an unfavorable opinion of Obama, while 48 percent view him favorably - the first time his negative number has exceeded his positive one in this most basic measure of personal popularity."

AND GINGRICH… "Gingrich is further underwater, with an unfavorable rating that's essentially the same as Obama's - 48 percent - but a favorable score that's 13 points lower, 35 percent. (More are undecided about Gingrich than about the president.) Moreover, while just 23 percent see Obama "strongly" favorably, Gingrich's core group of strong supporters is just half as large, 12 percent."


MIKE HUCKABEE PREMIERES ANTI-ABORTION DOCUMENTARY IN IOWA. "Former GOP presidential candidate and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has been a vocal opponent of abortion. So it's no surprise that the ordained Southern Baptist minister has joined forces with conservative non-profit group Citizens United to produce and today host the premiere in Des Moines, Iowa, of a new anti-abortion documentary, 'The Gift of Life,'" ABC's Calvin Lawrence reports. "The independent film 'explores the sanctity of life as a moral issue and looks at the lives of individuals who were nearly the victims of an abortion,' according to its website."


GINGRICH IOWA STAFFER FIRED OVER MORMON 'CULT' COMMENT. "A member of Newt Gingrich's campaign staff in Iowa was asked to resign Tuesday after disparaging comments he had made about Mitt Romney surfaced," ABC's Elicia Dover reports. "Craig Bergman, the political director for Newt 2012 in Iowa said last Wednesday that some pastors are on the 'anti-Mitt Romney bandwagon.' 'A lot of the evangelicals believe God would give us four more years of Obama just for the opportunity to expose the cult of Mormon. There's a thousand pastors ready to do that,' Bergman said last week to a Republican focus group. In the same focus group Bergman also was critical of Gingrich, calling him the 'smartest unwise man in America.' According to the The Iowa Republican, the organization that hosted the focus group, Bergman was worried about backing Gingrich after incidents such as the GOP frontrunner's appearance alongside fellow former Speaker of the House Nancy Peolsi in an ad dealing with global warming."

AXELROD AND THE 'MONKEY BUTT.' ABC's Devin Dwyer reports: Newt Gingrich has joked that God wanted him to be a bear, not a gazelle. But President Obama's chief campaign strategist David Axelrod today said Gingrich is more like a monkey. Speaking at a Washington press briefing, Axelrod said the former House speaker's climb to the top of the pack will further expose his least flattering personal and professional qualities. "Just remember, the higher a monkey climbs on a pole, the more you can see his butt," Axelrod said, citing a piece of political wisdom he said he learned from a Chicago alderman. "So, the speaker is very high on the pole right now and we'll see how people like the view." Axelrod chided Gingrich as an "extremist" whose role in the partisan fights of the 1990s helped lead to government shutdowns and the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.  "His penchant for provocation is not going to help him deal with the shortfalls that he has right now among women, among seniors and some other key constituencies," he added.

ANN ROMNEY ON MITT: 'HE'LL STICK WITH YOU.' A dispatch from ABC's Shushannah Walshe from Robins, Iowa: Mitt Romney's wife Ann hit the stump Tuesday evening in this small town close to Cedar Rapids, exactly three weeks out from the Iowa caucuses, to persuade the crowd to vote for her husband by describing what an honest and trustworthy man he is. "He's steadfast, honest, he's good. He sticks with you in the hard times," Ann Romney said in this living room at a fundraiser for a state representative. "I appreciate that, and I appreciate that quality of his. He's good to the core and I trust him so completely." The Romney campaign has been sending Ann Romney out more, hoping she's the secret weapon that can help stop the surging campaign of Newt Gingrich. Compared to the thrice married Gingrich who has admitted to marital infidelity, the Romneys are a stark contrast: married for 42 years and seemingly still madly in love, Ann Romney is out trying to make that case without naming names or explicitly comparing family lives.

RICK PERRY KICKS OFF IOWA BUS TOUR. Gov. Rick Perry kicks off his 42-city tour through Iowa today in the bus pictured above as his campaign hopes it will be the boost to carry him to victory in the Iowa caucuses three weeks away in January.  The first nine-day stretch of the tour will take him from Council Bluffs up north and across the state before heading south to end the excursion in Newton, ABC's Arlette Saenz reports. Perry starts his jam-packed day with a town hall meeting in Council Bluffs this afternoon, followed by a walk through Harlan town square and a meet and greet at Cronk's Café Restaurant and Lounge in Denison. Moving at a faster pace than his previous schedules, the Texas governor, who shines while engaging in traditional retail politicking, will endure days often filled with four or five events. The bus bears the slogan "Faith, Jobs and Freedom." PHOTO OF THE PERRY EXPRESS:

@ ArletteSaenz : Flashback: Rick Perry's last bus tour through Iowa in August featured the slogan "Get America Working Again"

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL ENDORSES ROMNEY. "Christine O'Donnell, the former Republican Senate candidate and a tea party favorite during the 2010 election, has officially endorsed Mitt Romney for president," ABC's Emily Friedman notes. "O'Donnell made her endorsement during an appearance Tuesday on Fox News' 'Hannity.' 'It was not an easy decision because I too think any of our candidates would make a great president and a great candidate going against Barack Obama,' O'Donnell said. 'But I think there are certain tie breakers and I know that in making my decision I might be hurting some people but I think infrastructure and executive experience are important, and for that reason I'm endorsing Mitt Romney.' … O'Donnell made clear that the Romney campaign did not 'come to her,' and that she went to the campaign. She said she would be willing to go out and campaign for Romney."

IN THE NOTE'S INBOX: . It's a new political website founded by Nathan Gonzales, the Deputy Editor of The Rothenberg Political Report and a Contributing Writer for Roll Call: " is the place for state-based political news from the Left, the Right, and non-partisan sources, all in one place. We've brought together top reporters and bloggers in key early states and aligned them in an easy-to-digest, three-column format. This week's launch includes the first five presidential states including Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada. The site features influential blogs on the Right including The Iowa Republican, blogs on the Left including Blue Hampshire, and non-partisan contributors including Jon Ralston in Nevada, the Des Moines Register, and the St. Petersburg Times." Online: And on Twitter: @PoliticsnStereo


@ TheFix : My look at President Obama's 5 paths to re-election (and how likely each one is).

@ nationaljournal : The Romney-Gingrich fight could be nasty-but also good for the GOP. (Not unlike the Clinton-Obama battle.)

@ evanmc_s : Tea partiers in Iowa saw the O'Donnell/Mitt endorsement coming. And 2 weeks ago, they were unimpressed

@ johnsberman : If "you" are a "protester," you have won 2 of last 5 Time Magazine's "person of the year" things. Well done.

@ TimAlbrechtIA : Please follow  #siouxcity Tweeps for the  #iowadebate@scj @SCJBretH  @SCJMitchP  @C_Rants  @mattbreenKTIV Please RT - thanks!!


-Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will hold an evening screening of the pro-life documentary "The Gift of Life" in Des Moines, Iowa. Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann are all expected to attend and address the audience.

- Newt Gingrich will sit down with the Cedar Rapids Gazette Editorial Board and will also hit the airwaves with interviews on Sean Hannity and Hugh Hewitt's radio shows.  In the afternoon, Gingrich is also slated to participate in a discussion about brain research at the University of Iowa's College of Public Health.

- Mitt Romney will attend fundraisers throughout New York City at Cipriani, the Waldorf Astoria and the home of Blackstone Chairman Stephen Schwarzman.

-Mitt Romney's wife, Ann Romney, will attend a house party in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  Josh Romney, will also file nominating petitions on behalf of his father with the District of Columbia Board of Elections for the D.C. Republican presidential primary.

- Rick Perry will kick off his Iowa bus tour with stops in Council Bluffs, Harlan and Denison.

- Rick Santorum will attend a breakfast with the Westside Conservative Club. He is also expected to speak to employees at Nationwide Insurance in Des Moines and Pioneer Hi-Bred in Johnston, Iowa.  Santorum will also meet with supporters at a Christmas Party in the campaign's Urbandale headquarters.

- Michele Bachmann will hold an afternoon media availability at the Hoyt Sherman Place in Des Moines.

- Ron Paul will hold an evening town hall at the Adams Memorial Opera House in Derry, N.H.

-ABC's Joanna Suarez

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