This is no longer hype, this is no longer the flavor of the week and this is no bubble about to burst: Newt Gingrich is now the front runner for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.
A recent CBS / New York Times poll not only puts him far in the lead of Mitt Romney and other candidates in Iowa but he’s scoring well amongst self–described conservatives and is perceived as just as capable of beating Obama in the general election.
It’s that second part that really has to worry Mitt Romney, his main pitch to the less rabid Republican base was the fact that he could give Obama a run for his money all over the country. If GOP voters start to believe that Newt is not just a red state phenomena then Romney has to start worrying, and he has.
One of the things I point out about campaign strategy in my book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell is that the clearest sign that a frontrunner is in trouble, or has lost that title is when they start attacking. Lo and behold, the Romney campaign has gone into attack mode over the last 24 hours and it promises to do more heading into the weekend.
The Romney campaign used a conference call with big name Romney supporters John Sununu and Jim Talent to attack Newt directly on some of his ‘reckless’ statements from past television interviews and suggest that he is trying to look ‘smarter’ than the rest of the GOP field.
This is rather tame compared to attacks thrown at Romney throughout the year – but part two will come on Saturday’s debate in Iowa. Romney has never had to be in attack mode before, preferring a campaign strategy of “Winning” by not “Losing.” The problem is that won’t work against an opponent who is surging in the polls for no other reason than pure popularity and charisma. I anticipate him going on the light offensive against Gingrich and then following it up with his first televised interview in almost 18 months on Sunday the 18th.
The Christmas season is usually not the time when people start caring about nasty politics and attacks, but Romney doesn’t have that much of choice. If voters in Iowa have made up their minds before Christmas there isn’t much he’s going to be able to do during the holiday week to chance minds before January 3rd.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.