Despite a second surge that has put Newt Gingrich back atop national polls, Democrats are having a hard time envisioning the former Speaker somehow besting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination.
"Those of us who have known him, who have worked with him for 30-years-plus, find it hard to believe that the Republicans would choose him as their nominee," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a close ally of President Barack Obama.
Primarily, Democrats see what many pundits see in Gingrich: a flawed candidate who doesn't have the organization or fundraising might to compete with Romney in the long run. But they also say they just can't imagine that they could get so lucky as to have a head-to-head competition between Obama and Gingrich.
Durbin noted that the final outcome "remains to be seen. Republican primary voters have come up with some surprising results. So, you assume at the end of the day, Romney's the nominee, but if Gingrich, if he can get the Adelson family to keep writing checks, [Romney] may be out," Durbin said, referencing billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has bankrolled a pro-Gingrich super PAC.
Durbin said Democrats would have no trouble pivoting to fight a Gingrich candidacy.
"Newt Gingrich's presidential candidacy would be the mother lode of opportunity," he said. "If you listen to what Republicans in the House have said about him, you've got plenty of material."
Democrats for months have been targeting their attacks at Romney, the long-presumed frontrunner, even as Gingrich has surged in recent weeks. A CNN poll released Wednesday showed Romney and Gingrich in a statistical tie in Florida, which is set to hold its primary Jan. 31. Recent national polls have shown Gingrich with a slight lead over Romney.
Even after Gingrich won the South Carolina primary by 12 points, Democrats did not pivot to attack him, with Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), Obama's campaign and Capitol Hill Democrats ripping into Romney almost exclusively. The exception has been House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who can't seem to help herself when it comes to needling Gingrich over his past ethics woes in the House.
It didn't hurt the Democratic strategy when Romney revealed tax returns showing he paid a tax rate of less than 15 percent during the past two years. Democrats see that as a perfect foil for Obama's State of the Union proposal that millionaires pay their "fair share" of at least 30 percent and for the Democrats' larger campaign theme of addressing income inequality.