If Newt Goes Up, Must He Come Down?

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

DES MOINES - He earned a place at the center of the debate stage in Iowa on Saturday night - a symbolic nod to his new spot at the center of the race for the Republican nomination. And if there's one thing this weekend confirmed, Newt Gingrich has managed to resuscitate his moribund presidential campaign and emerge as the candidate to beat in the GOP primary.

It is a stunning role reversal, for the first time this year, the "steady as she goes" Mitt Romney campaign looks off-balance.

Gingrich appeared to help his cause at Saturday night's showdown in Des Moines - the most-watched debate of the presidential campaign so far - while Romney's performance has already been defined by his now infamous offer to bet fellow candidate Rick Perry $10,000 to settle a score.

Despite his pledge to run a "relentlessly positive" campaign, Gingrich launched an assault on Romney at the debate, saying "Let's be candid, the only reason you didn't become a career politician is because you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994." http://abcn.ws/vGZ8bm

But it turned out to be Romney's own words - not Gingrich's - that have been haunting him since that night. He attempted to explain away his $10,000 moment with a joke while campaigning in New Hampshire on Sunday afternoon.

"After the debate was over Ann came up and gave me a kiss and said I was great and she said there are a lot of things you do well, betting isn't one of them," Romney told reporters after an event in Hudson, N.H. http://abcn.ws/w46Jxn

Heading into final stretch before voters in the early caucus and primary states go to the polls, we have a clear Romney-as-underdog narrative on our hands, but as ABC's Political Director Amy Walter points out, a narrative may not always match reality.

The consensus among the handful of top Republican strategists the Note reached out to Sunday was that Romney remained the odds-on favorite for the nomination. The biggest reason: Gingrich himself.

As one long-time Republican put it, Gingrich "can self-destruct on a dime." Another wrote in an email, "Newt would truly be changed if he didn't mess this up." http://abcn.ws/w3q5QA

ROMNEY ON MESSAGE: 'I'M GOING TO GET THE NOMINATION.' In New Hampshire on Sunday, Romney referred to poll numbers - some showing him trailing former Gingrich by double digits - as "fluid," adding that he's certain he'll be the nominee, ABC's Emily Friedman reports. "These polls have bounced all over the place in the past year," Romney said. "I'm going to get the nomination, I can't tell you exactly which order I'll be able to pick up states in, but I'm convinced I'll be successful in this effort if I'm able to stay true to the things I believe and the message I deliver and provide it in a very compelling way and I hope to become the nominee. I think I will become the nominee." Asked whether some of his outspoken surrogates - some of whom have referred to Gingrich as "untrustworthy" Romney said he wouldn't distance himself from the critiques but that he did not write the scripts for Gingrich's outspoken opponents. "I do not, I will not distance myself from the comments of people who are describing their experience and their assessment of the speaker based on that experience," Romney said. http://abcn.ws/w46Jxn

RICK PERRY PUSHES THE 'OUT OF TOUCH' NARRATIVE. ABC's Arlette Saenz reports that Rick Perry may have turned down the $10,000 bet offered by Romney Saturday night, but the Texas governor did not miss an opportunity to criticize him for it, characterizing the Massachusetts governor's challenge as "out of touch" with the American people during a morning show interview yeesterday. "I was taken a little aback. Driving out to the station this morning, I'm pretty sure I didn't drive by a house that anyone in Iowa would even think about that a $10,000 bet was even possible, so a little out of touch with the normal Iowa citizen," Perry said during an interview on Fox News Sunday. http://abcn.ws/tOkiT3

The Perry campaign also released a minute-long web video highlighting Romney's wager proposition and calling "Romneycare a losing bet for America." ABC footage of the debate coverage - including cameos by Jake Tapper, David Muir and Matt Dowd - plays heavily throughout the video along with video of the Texas governor talking with American voters. http://abcn.ws/vDgH8g

THE BACKSTORY: Mid-way through Saturday's debate, Perry accused Romney of supporting an individual mandate to buy health insurance, saying that Romney wrote in his book that the Massachusetts mandate was a model for the nation. Romney shot back with a bet: $10,000 that he does not and did not support a national individual mandate." WATCH the moment: http://abcn.ws/vMIqlH

THE MOST WATCHED DEBATE OF THE PRIMARY SEASON. The ABC News "Your Voice, Your Vote" Republican presidential debate in Iowa drew 7.58 million total viewers and 2.10 million adults 25-54 on Saturday. Moderated by Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos, and co-sponsored by Yahoo! News, the Des Moines Register, WOI-TV and the Iowa Republican Party, the "Your Voice, Your Vote" special ranked as the #1 program among total viewers on Saturday evening.  The ABC News debate stands as the most-watched debate of the 2012 campaign season. Held at a pivotal moment in the campaign - just 24 days before the first voters make their voices heard at the Iowa caucuses - the ABC debate outperformed the next most viewed GOP debates by 1.47 million total viewers.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT. Video of Saturday night's debate in its entirety. WATCH: http://abc.tv/vG6Sv7

FACT FROM FICTION. ABC News took a closer look at some of the claims made by the candidates at the debate, including:

-We'll lose 1.6 million jobs over five years under the affordable healthcare act. -Newt Gingrich would build a colony on the moon. -Payroll tax cut: band-aid, gimmick or something else all together? -Romney's record on the Affordable Care Act. -HPV vaccine vs. Romney's health care plan. -Palestinians as an "invented" people?

Here are the facts: http://abcn.ws/uZTYTf

ABC's Jake Tapper reported on all of the fallout from this weekend's debate and political events on "Good Morning America" today. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/tVPbFP

GRANITE STATE DUEL. The two leading candidate for the GOP nomination, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are both stumping in New Hampshire today. Romney has two public events - one in Manchester and the second in the North Country at a lumber mill. Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas also officially endorsed Romney today. Meanwhile, Gingrich will participate in a town hall at Insight Technology this morning. At 4 p.m., Gingrich and Jon Huntsman will participate in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate at St. Anselm College's Institute Of Politics. Later in the evening at he will hold another town hall meeting in Winham, N.H.



IOWA EVANGELICALS TORN OVER NEWT. Bloomberg News recently convened a focus group of nine Iowa Republicans, all evangelical Christians who plan to participate in the caucuses. Bloomberg's John McCormick has the results:  "Linda Warner acknowledges Newt Gingrich has some 'baggage' and can be 'pugnacious.' She also thinks he has the best chance of beating President Barack Obama, and that trumps any concerns she has about whether Gingrich's marital infidelity should disqualify him from becoming the standard-bearer of the party of family values. 'He has shown so well in the debates,' said Warner, 52, a physics teacher who backed Ron Paul in the 2008 Iowa caucuses. That's not the conclusion drawn by Philip Fisher, who said Gingrich's three marriages and the extramarital affair he had with his current wife, Callista, hurt his chances to become president - while also potentially signaling ethical weakness. 'Cheating on your wife, that I have a problem with,' said Fisher, 41, a technical project coordinator who is leaning toward supporting Mitt Romney. 'If you're willing to cross that moral line, that leads you to a gray area and realistically that's why I'm afraid that he's not electable.' How those crosscurrents play out over the next three weeks will help determine whether the former U.S. House speaker from Georgia keeps his lead in Iowa, the state that starts the Republican nomination voting with its Jan. 3 caucuses." http://bloom.bg/rpMyG4

GINGRICH CAMP STRATEGY : 'LET IT ALL HANG OUT.' "Running for president is serious business, Newt Gingrich sometimes says on the stump, so voters should feel free to ask anything - to leaf through his life as if it were an open book. And boy, are there a lot of potentially problematic chapters, in both the public and private spheres, that Mr. Gingrich's Republican rivals assumed would eventually sour voters on him and halt his momentum," The New York Times' Trip Gabriel writes. "But so far, that has not happened. Mr. Gingrich's skill in facing criticisms head-on - sometimes fiercely rebutting them, sometimes apologizing for past errors in judgment - has only swelled his support. … Mr. Gingrich's spokesman, R. C. Hammond, said that the candidate realized when he was gearing up to run in the spring that his past would provide ample fodder for opponents. 'He showed up one day at work and said, 'Guys, we're going to have to answer all the questions.'  He would, Mr. Hammond said, 'let it all hang out.'" http://nyti.ms/si2yCd

CONGRESS INCHES TOWARD SPENDING COMPROMISE. "Put this in the "small accomplishments" category for an especially gridlocked Congress: It appears increasingly likely that, with little fuss, lawmakers will approve a bipartisan compromise in coming days that will keep government running past Friday, when a short-term funding measure that has kept the lights on expires," the Washington Post's Rosalind Helderman reports. "Partisan clashes have brought the government to the brink of a shutdown three times in the past year. But this time, appropriators from the House and Senate have been quietly working toward the unveiling, expected late Monday, of a compromise spending measure that would outline how government agencies should spend nearly $1 trillion through Sept. 30, 2012. One thing the negotiators have had going for them is that they've been given space to work, their efforts largely overshadowed by a bitter fight between Republicans and President Obama over extending a one-year cut in the payroll tax, paid by 160 million workers, when it lapses at the end of the month. … The payroll tax fight will continue this week as the House votes on a GOP-authored proposal that would link the extension of the tax cut sought by Obama with Republican priorities, including a measure to speed the construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline." http://wapo.st/va8ZtG

IS JIM MESSINA OBAMA'S SECRET WEAPON? "In a town where every macho operative fancies himself the next Michael Clayton, Jim Messina - President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign manager - stakes a legitimate claim as D.C.'s alpha fixer," notes Politico's Glenn Thrush. "His tactical political smarts have been enlisted by a broad range of Democrats - from powerful patrons, including Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Harry Reid of Nevada, to dozens of up-the-creek candidates, as well as Obama. As White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's deputy for the first two years of the Obama administration, Messina's main task was to fix problems - whether they were big ones, like health care reform, or specific ones, like Jon Huntsman. But with the election less than a year away and Obama confronting the kind of economic problems that almost always result in defeat, Democrats wonder whether Messina can make the leap from trusted No. 2 to the much more challenging role of running what is likely to be the costliest, most complicated reelection bid in modern history. In the short term, they are watching to see if he fully emerges from the long shadow cast by another dominating leader of the Obama team: David Plouffe, the 2008 campaign manager, who still plays a central role in the reelection campaign despite working in the White House." http://politi.co/ufOwK6

IN THE NOTE'S INBOX: JON HUNTSMAN ANNOUNCES NEW HAMPSHIRE LEADERSHIP. "Jon Huntsman for President today announced the campaign's New Hampshire Statewide Leadership Team consisting of the campaign's Statewide Chairs, County Chairs and Town Chairs who will organize for Governor Huntsman. Nearly 140 community leaders representing all 10 New Hampshire counties and 90 towns are on the Leadership Team. The Leadership Team is headed by State Senator Nancy Stiles, Nancy Merrill, David Currier, Anthony Hartigan, Sean Owen, and Renee and Dan Plummer. 


@ benpolitico : Home news: I'm going to be editor-in-chief of  @buzzfeed. mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/buz…

@ brianstelter : MT  @thegarance@benpolitico's move affirms what Web journalists already know: unit of influence on social Web is the story, not the outlet.

@ ChrisHarrisKS : RT  @American_Bridge: Mitt's Flips: Freddie & Fannie (VIDEO) youtu.be/axqM-7lc0OU

@ ralphreed : Combination of so many televised debates and compression of calendar may create a quasi-national primary.

@ TheOnlyArcher : Huntsman Holds on to Hope  abcn.ws/t3CZbT (via  @Michaelono)

@ ZekeJMiller : RT  @adamsmithtimes: Former Huntsman cmpn man Susie Wiles helping Romney in Fla, joining statewide advisory team



- NEWT GINGRICH is in New Hampshire where he'll speak at two town hall's and visit the Hollis Pharmacy in Hollis, NH.

- NEWT GINGRICH and JON HUNTSMAN will face off in a Lincoln Douglas Debate at New Hampshire's St. Anselm's College. The debate will focus on Foreign Policy and National Security.

- JON HUNTSMAN will speak at the Peterborough and Jaffrey-Rindge Rotary Meeting in Peterborough, NH before his debate with Newt Gingrich.

- RICK SANTORUM campaigns in Iowa with three events including a visit to Cornell College.

- MITT ROMNEY spends the day in New Hampshire discussing jobs and the economy with employees at the Madison Lumber Mill.

-ABC's Josh Haskell

Check out The Note's Futures Calendar:  http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV


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