With Union Leader endorsement, can Newt Gingrich catch Mitt Romney?

The New Hampshire Union Leader's endorsement of Newt Gingrich is a major boost. Is it enough to put Newt Gingrich into contention in New Hampshire, and beyond?

(AP Photo/Erik Kellar)
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich signs a copy of his book 'A Nation Like No Other' in Naples, Fla., Nov. 26, 2011.

The building blocks for Newt Gingrich to win the 2012 GOP nomination are starting fall in place.

It's still a long shot. But Gingrich is gaining credibility by the day.

In New Hampshire, the coveted endorsement Sunday by the state's conservative newspaper offers a significant boost to Gingrich – and a blow to Mitt Romney. This is the second time the Union Leader has pointedly passed on Romney. In 2008, Sen. John McCain got the Union Leader nod, and eventually won the Republican presidential nomination. 

Mitt Romney still has a substantial lead over Gingrich in New Hampshire polls. But so did George W. Bush and Barack Obama – and both lost the New Hampshire primary.

Romney's nightmare scenario, as the London Telegraph US editor Toby Harnden notes, is that a Gingrich win in Iowa leads to a first or second place finish in New Hampshire. Romney is counting on New Hampshire, but if Gingrich can show he's a serious contender then the battle goes to South Carolina, where a "true" social conservative, such as Gingrich, has an edge. Then comes the pivotal Florida primary.

 “I think Gingrich will do well in South Carolina and the country, despite his baggage from the past,” David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University told The Christian Science Monitor recently. “The reason is that he is so articulate on the issues, and the many, many debates work to play to his strength.... If he can win South Carolina, then he must repeat that victory in Florida. I think that whomever wins Florida wins the nomination.”

How is Gingrich doing in Iowa, the first step in this scenario?

An American Research Group (ARG) poll of 600 Iowans taken before Thanksgiving mirrors Gingrich's improving numbers nationally. Gingrich gets 27 percent vs. 20 percent for Romney. It's the best showing that Gingrich has had since April.  Ron Paul is in third place with 16 percent.

J. Ann Selzer, who has conducted The Des Moines Register polling for more than two decades, notes that Gingrich has momentum in Iowa. In her last poll, released Nov. 15, Gingrich was at 17 percent. But she notes that Gingrich's "campaign contact number" was much stronger. "He gets 32 percent first-choice votes among people his campaign has contacted. That's almost double the 17 percent he gets overall in the poll. That number is a very strong number for him. What [voters] have seen of him they liked, and what they have seen of other candidates didn't impress," says Ms. Selzer told The Atlantic.

Of course, Gingrich has political baggage. And, his campaign is not well organized. The Jan. 3 Iowa caucus is just over a month away, so Gingrich may be peaking a little too late to turn his new-found popularity into an effective political campaign.  In states such as Iowa, having an organization that can get voters to the cacuses is critical.

Still, the Romney folks may be hearing Gingrich footsteps.

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