Nightly News | December 10, 2011
LESTER HOLT, anchor: For so many months, the word "front-runner" seemed almost permanently attached to Mitt Romney 's name, even as challengers surged, only to fizzled out. But the landscape in the early caucus state of Iowa has taken a dramatic shift and tonight Romney finds himself behind and losing ground to Newt Gingrich . Of course, in the long primary season, one contest does not make or break a campaign, but it can offer at least the perception of momentum. Ans so as the Republican candidates prepare to debate each other tonight in Des Moines , look for Newt Gingrich to be in the middle in the cross fire. NBC 's Mike Viqueira starts us off tonight.
Former Governor MITT ROMNEY: Thank you so much for doing this.
MIKE VIQUEIRA reporting: Now a distant second in Iowa polls, Mitt Romney is mounting a late push, campaigning today in Des Moines with wife, Ann , highlighting their marriage of over 40 years.
Fmr. Gov. ROMNEY: This is my middle son. We have five boys, as you know. And Josh had an extraordinary talent. You know, he really should be the politician in the family. Not me.
VIQUEIRA: Romney 's goal in Iowa halt the rise of front-runner Newt Gingrich , in part by contrasting his own personal life with Gingrich 's history of infidelity and two divorces. Though he hasn't attacked his rival directly, Romney's allies have.
Mr. DAN QUAYLE (Former Vice President): You have to have somebody that you believe in. You have to have somebody that has integrity. You know, poor ethics has no place in the White House .
VIQUEIRA: Other Republicans fear Gingrich is a loose cannon.
Former Representative NEWT GINGRICH: With a Palestinian authority that's relatively weak...
VIQUEIRA: That fear was heightened yesterday when, in an interview with The Jewish Channel , Gingrich implied that there is no such thing as a Palestinian.
Fmr. Rep. GINGRICH: I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people , who are, in fact, Arabs and who are historically part of the Arab community.
VIQUEIRA: Gingrich went on to call the peace process delusional. Critics, including many Middle East experts, have pounced, noting that even the Israeli government supports an eventual Palestinian state . Today in a statement, the Gingrich campaign clarified his stance, " Newt Gingrich supports a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which will necessary include agreement between Israel and the Palestinians over the borders of a Palestinian state ." Gingrich campaigned in Iowa today with wife, Callista , and pledged to stay positive in the face of attacks.
Fmr. Rep. GINGRICH: I'll also tell you, none of my surrogates are going to be encouraged to go out and attack anyone. We have lots of good, positive things to talk about.
VIQUEIRA: Gingrich has a 13-point lead in Iowa just three weeks before the caucus; but rivals hope that with two debates remaining, there's time to win over the majority of voters who still haven't made up their mind. And, Lester , one of those rivals who bears watching is Ron Paul . He's got very strong backing in Iowa . He's essentially tied with Mitt Romney for second. And you can expect Paul and other conservatives, and you said it, Lester , here -- they're going to go after Newt Gingrich hard tonight at that debate.
HOLT: Mike Viqueira tonight from the White House . Mike , thanks. David