After endorsement, does Newt Gingrich still have a New Hampshire problem?

Newt Gingrich may have won the endorsement of the influential New Hampshire Union Leader, but he's still a distant second to Mitt Romney in state polls and has a lot of catching up to do.

Evan Vucci/AP/File
In this Nov. 22 photo, Republican presidential candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during the Republican presidential debate in Washington. Newt Gingrich landed editorial endorsement of NH Union Leader Sunday Nov. 27, 45 days before GOP primary.

Newt Gingrich was endorsed by the New Hampshire Union Leader on Sunday, in case you haven’t heard. Yes, that’s great for Newt, and the endorsement has received zeppelin-loads of coverage in other media, to the point where the Union Leader Monday ran a story about the reaction to its GOP primary choice.

But isn’t it possible that despite this development the ex-speaker still has a New Hampshire problem? He’s doing great in national polls, and he’s surging in Iowa and South Carolina, but for Mr. Gingrich a Granite State victory may still be a Mt. Monadnock climb away.

He's behind

Overlooked in a lot of the endorsement hoopla is the fact that Newt remains a distant second in New Hampshire polls. On Monday the Real Clear Politics rolling average of major surveys had him as the choice of 18.5 percent of the state’s GOP voters. Mitt Romney is first with 36.8 percent – almost double Gingrich’s total.

It’s certainly possible that a Newt surge is underway that this calculation does not yet catch. If Gingrich does well in Iowa he could slingshot into New Hampshire with momentum. But it’s also possible that the person in third place, Ron Paul, could outperform expectations in Iowa, and slingshot past the former speaker. After all, Paul’s currently at 13.3 percent, a slim 5 percentage points behind Gingrich. And if you look at him from the side, and squint, Paul kind of looks like the Old Man of the Mountain, don’t you think?

The Union Leader isn't what it used to be

The Union Leader is still the megaphone of New Hampshire conservatives. However, sadly, newspapers aren’t the arbiters of opinion they used to like to pretend they were. Nor are they as popular as they used to be. The Union Leader has not escaped this trend – its daily circulation of around 48,000 is less than half its 1990’s peak.

Nor does it always pick a winner. The Union Leader endorsed Steve Forbes in 1999. Earlier in the ‘90s it endorsed Pat Buchanan – twice. It chose Pete DuPont in 1987.

Its endorsement does matter, however. Over at his Five Thirty Eight blog in the New York Times, polling analyst Nate Silver crunched the numbers and came up with the figure “11” – as in, the Union Leader endorsee eventually gains 11 percentage points in the polls due to the nod.

Of course, that might still leave Gingrich losing to Romney, at 36 to 29 percent. But if he wins Iowa “Mr. Gingrich would at least have a shot at winning New Hampshire,” concludes Silver.

His organization may not be organized enough

Newt Gingrich has never pretended to be a detail-oriented campaign nerd, as, say, Bill Clinton is. He’s a self-proclaimed idea guy. The problem is, New Hampshire is one state where voters have long expected candidates to engage in retail politics, as in, meeting them in diners and post offices. And Gingrich may not have the time, money, or staff to engage New Hampshire voters to the degree other candidates will.

A recent Huffington Post/Patch survey of GOP insiders found that no New Hampshire Republican leader rated Gingrich’s organization as the best in the state. He and Michelle Bachmann were the only two candidates with such a low rating.

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