Nightly News | November 27, 2011
LESTER HOLT, anchor: Just over five weeks now until the Iowa caucuses kick the presidential race into high gear, and tonight a high profile endorsement is shining the spotlight on Newt Gingrich 's surging campaign. It comes from the leading newspaper in New Hampshire where the nation's first presidential primary will be held just after the start of the new year. It was only last June that Gingrich 's campaign seemed on the verge of a premature death when his campaign manager and senior staffers walked off the job. Now as we rapidly approach a key moment in this contest, the former House speaker seems positioned to challenge Mitt Romney 's status as unofficial front-runner. NBC 's Kristen Welker starts us off tonight from the White House with more. Kristen , good evening.
KRISTEN WELKER reporting: Lester , good evening. This endorsement doesn't really guarantee anything, but in this crowded and volatile race every little bit helps.
Offscreen Voice: Newt .
Mr. NEWT GINGRICH: How are you?
WELKER: Citing his record of helping balance the budget while serving as House speaker in the '90s, the Union Leader editorial is a shot in the arm for the latest Republican front -runner. " Newt Gingrich is by no means the perfect candidate, but Republican primary voters too often make the mistake of preferring an unattainable ideal to the best candidate who is actually running." Drew Cline , the editorial page editor, dismissed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney as a play it safe candidate.
Mr. DREW CLINE: He doesn't want to offend everybody or anybody. He wants to be liked. He wants to try to reach out and be very safe, reach out to everybody, bring everybody on board. Imagine what that would be like as president.
WELKER: In the past 30 years, the Union Leader has only supported two Republican candidates who went on to win their party's nomination; Ronald Reagan in 1980 and John McCain in 2008 . And although the latest New Hampshire poll shows Romney with a commanding 27 point lead over Gingrich , the race has been volatile from the start.
Mr. DANTE SCALA (University of New Hampshire): A lot of voters just haven't made up their minds for sure yet. One-third of Mitt Romney voters see Newt Gingrich as their second choice according to the latest UNH poll. So there's lots of time here for voters to make up their mind and for those polls to change.
WELKER: Today other candidates downplayed the importance of the Gingrich endorsement. Former Governor JOHN HUNTSMAN ([shown on screen] Republican Presidential
Candidate): I'm getting whiplash watching these people go up and down. It would have been unthinkable a month ago for Newt Gingrich to get the endorsement of the Union Leader .
Mr. HERMAN CAIN (Republican Presidential Candidate): The good news is most of my supporters, they have stayed on the Cain train, as we say.
WELKER: Now all eyes are also on Iowa where Gingrich is leading in some polls. Mitt Romney , who lost the state back in 2008 , has only recently started to wage a more aggressive campaign there. Lester :
HOLT: Kristen , thanks.