Guy Benson

We had this story up on the home page yesterday, but since many Americans are still recovering from their turkey/shopocalypse hangover (good news on the latter front), it's worth a second spin.  This development is a significant coup for the Gingrich campaign and a blow to Team Romney:
 

New Hampshire's largest newspaper on Sunday endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 2012 GOP presidential race, signaling that rival Mitt Romney isn't the universal favorite and potentially resetting the contest before the state's lead-off primary Jan. 10.  "We are in critical need of the innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership that Gingrich has shown he is capable of providing," The New Hampshire Union Leader said in its front-page editorial, which was as much a promotion of Gingrich as a discreet rebuke of Romney.

"We don't back candidates based on popularity polls or big-shot backers. We look for conservatives of courage and conviction who are independent-minded, grounded in their core beliefs about this nation and its people, and best equipped for the job," the editorial said.


The Gingrich campaign is exultant (via email):
 

With today’s endorsement by one of the country’s most important conservative barometer [sic], the Manchester Union-Leader, the paper that was among the first to champion Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich has solidified his hold as the conservative front runner in the 2012 presidential race.


Ed Morrissey correctly points out that the Union-Leader's blessing hasn't been determinative historically, but its influence is nothing to scoff at.  This is the latest symptom of a not-so-secret phenomenon that has played itself out over recent months: Many conservatives aren't enthused over the prospect of a Romney nomination.  It's a truth that helps explain the merry-go-round of 'not Romney' candidates that have occupied the field's top polling spot -- from Donald Trump, to Michele Bachmann, to Rick Perry, to Herman Cain, to Gingrich.  Others have faltered and fallen.  Will Newt?  I suspect an examination of his record and history will give many GOP voters some pause, although Newt may be immune to a Perry-style collapse.  Why?  His much-discussed "baggage" is already well known, and he's articulate enough to fend off many of the attacks.

Last week, Dan asked if Romney's apparent invincibility in the Granite State was a paper tiger. Could the Union-Leader's nod help catapult Newt to a point of parity in New Hampshire?  That remains to be seen, although the latest results from a respected in-state pollster suggests that Romney's position in his own backyard remains robust:
 

A new poll shows that Mitt Romney continues to enjoy a wide lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination in New Hampshire. The latest WMUR/University of New Hampshire poll shows that despite Romney's lead, primary voters remain undecided on who their final choice will be at the polls. The poll shows 42 percent of Republicans favor Romney. Newt Gingrich has moved up to second place with 15 percent, followed by Ron Paul at 12 percent and Jon Huntsman at 8 percent.


Meanwhile, Newt has jumped into the lead nationally, in Iowa (with Romney in second), and in South Carolina.  If he can maintain even most of his support heading into January's balloting, the political stars could be aligning for a lengthy war of attrition between Romney and Gingrich.  Romney has the funding and the organization to compete for months -- and despite what the chattering class has said, Romney is absolutely playing hard in Iowa.  Gingrich, until recently, has had an extremely bare-bones ground operation.  Can Newt sustain conservative enthusiasm over a period of months and harness that energy to overcome Romney's well-oiled machine?  It's that brand of previously unforeseen question that makes politics so much fun to follow. 
 
Parting thought - Romney is now beating his most persuasive electoral drum: Electability.  Is that a sign that he's giving up on trying to be Mr. Conservative, or is he simply advancing the best argument in his favor?

Guy Benson

Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Senior Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography