The surging Newt Gingrich presidential campaign scored a key win over Republican primary rival Mitt Romney on Sunday when New Hampshire's largest newspaper, the Union Leader, endorsed the former House speaker over the former Massachusetts governor.
"We would rather back someone with whom we may sometimes disagree than one who tells us what he thinks we want to hear," the newspaper wrote in a front-page editorial that was as much an indirect rebuke of Mr. Romney as it was an endorsement of Mr. Gingrich.
"We don't have to agree with them on every issue ... . We are in critical need of the innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership that Gingrich has shown he is capable of providing," the paper said.
In a Sunday appearance on CNN to talk about the endorsement, editorial-page editor Andrew Cline called Mr. Romney a "play-it-safe" candidate running at a time when the country needs bold leadership.
Mr. Cline said the paper, which has a mixed record on picking winners in the GOP primary - backing losers Pete du Pont in 1988, Pat Buchanan in 1992 and Steve Forbes in 2000 - did not consider "electability" in making the decision.
"This isn't a game where we're trying to win the primary so we can have a record of 'X' number of wins. We don't look at it that way. We are not trying to attach our name to a winner. That's not really leading. That would do our readers a very big disservice. We're looking at who we would like to see as president," he said.
But observers across the political spectrum predicted that the endorsement from the paper, considered the conservative voice of New England, will have a key impact on this election.
"The value of this endorsement cannot be understated," Judson Phillips, the leader of Tea Party Nation, wrote on his blog Sunday. "New Hampshire is a must-win state for Romney. If Gingrich wins Iowa, and then turns around a week later and wins New Hampshire, which is considered home turf for the Romney campaign, Romney will be on the ropes. He has almost no chance in South Carolina. If Gingrich comes out of the first three primaries with wins, the race will be over."
Mr. Romney still enjoys a sizable advantage in New Hampshire, both in the polls and in campaign cash and resources. But the paper's endorsement, signed by publisher Joseph W. McQuaid, could narrow a crowded race to a two-man contest.
Steve Duprey, a Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire, said: "The Union Leader is the only statewide paper, and it is the conservative paper of record. Their endorsement sends a key signal to conservatives, and it is very important in a race that has so many candidates."
A poll released last week showed the former Massachusetts governor, who owns a house in the Granite State, with 42 percent support among likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire. Mr. Gingrich is running well back with 15 percent in the WMUR-University of New Hampshire Granite State survey. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is at 12 percent and former Utah Gov. John Huntsman Jr. is at 8 percent support in that survey.
Mr. Huntsman, who has built his entire presidential campaign around the Jan. 21 New Hampshire primary, said the endorsement proves the contest is still up in the air.
"A month ago for Newt Gingrich to have been in the running to capture the ... Union Leader endorsement would have been unthinkable," Mr. Huntsman said Sunday on "Fox News Sunday." "I think it reflects, more than anything else, the fluidity, the unpredictability of the race right now."
With a big chunk of the GOP base unwilling to commit to Mr. Romney, a succession of candidates - from Texas Gov. Rick Perry to Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota to Georgia businessman Herman Cain - have surged to the top of national polls, only to wither under the front-runner's spotlight.
Mr. Gingrich, a former Georgia congressman who as speaker of the U.S. House was the architect of the GOP's Contract With America in 1994, is the latest contender to surge ahead of the pack, fueled by solid debate performances and a steadfast refusal to attack his GOP rivals, focusing his criticism instead on President Obama.
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