The Forgotten Candidate: Ron Paul Gathers Momentum, Has Sights Set on Newt Gingrich

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.

The libertarian leaning Texas Congressman is buoyed by strong poll numbers. In the latest ABC News/ Washington Post poll, Paul is polling in the top three in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Similar polls by NBC, CBS, and the Des Moines Register show the same.

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."

While Gingrich has led Republicans in Washington as Speaker of the  House in the 1990s, Paul has often been a thorn in their side, unyielding in his support for a radical downsizing of the federal government. Paul unveiled a budget proposal in October which cuts $1 trillion from the federal government in the first year.

Although Paul's budget has been lauded by both conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh and Iowa's Gov. Terry Branstad who called it "the boldest plan to reduce the debt," the framework has been dismissed by Gingrich.

The former House speaker labeled the plan "a non-starter."

"If you come to me and tell me I need to lose 30 pounds and you're going to amputate my right leg, I think it's a non-starter, " Gingrich told the Quad City Times.

Paul, who served in the House of Representatives with Gingrich for seven years - one while Gingrich was Speaker, gave the current GOP front-runner credit for "devis[ing] some strategies" while he led the House,  but said he "falls short on leadership" in seeing those ideas through.

When asked about the Gingrich's alleged infidelity and two divorces, Paul said"people have a right to know" about the "problems in his personal life."

"But I don't think that that should be the big deal," Paul said. "When it comes to Gingrich I think everyone knows about the problems he has had in his personal life, but I think we need to know more about his policies  and I think that is much more important."

The two also sparred over the scope of government during a recent CNN debate in which Gingrich advocated for strengthening the Patriot Act, which provides law enforcement authorities enhanced tools to combat terrorism.

Paul refuted the idea, instead imploring "not to sacrifice liberty for security." Gingrich shot back that he didn't want to lose an American city before action is taken.

But the latest ABC News poll does show problems for Paul. On the electability issue, just 8 percent of likely caucus -goers see Paul as best able to beat Obama, trailing Gingrich by 21 points. It was Paul's weakest attribute.

But this was far from his only challenge. Paul trails Gingrich by a whopping 30 points on having the best experience. And Paul's renaissance on limited government and deficit control is counted by his very broad objection to his non-interventionist views.

In the coming weeks, Paul plans to continue airing ads in the early primary states reminding voters how's he's different from Gingrich.

The message will be reinforced by an extensive get-out-the-vote effort. The campaign is sending 500 young supporters to Iowa and New Hampshire. The program is called Christmas Vacation with Ron Paul, and through it, youth activists will travel around the key early-voting states to drum up support and get out the vote for Paul.

Paul's organization is his greatest asset and the starkest contrast to Gingrich. Yahoo! News reported that phones for Newt Gingrich's Iowa campaign office finally arrived on Tuesday, exactly one month before the state's caucuses.