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Congressional Republicans Fear Newt Gingrich as Standard-Bearer

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Gingrich surged back into contention in the presidential primary with a strong victory in South Carolina on Saturday. He has closed the gap with Romney in national polls and now leads Romney in surveys of Florida GOP voters, who go to the polls Jan. 31, leading some to describe him as the primary’s new frontrunner.

Gingrich, who has the backing of nearly a dozen Republican Members compared with Romney’s 72, has charged the GOP establishment with opposing his nomination because it fears the change he would implement in Washington if he was elected president.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is running Romney’s whip operation on Capitol Hill, dismissed that argument, saying support for the former Massachusetts governor is based on who is best equipped to win the election and serve as president.

“Lots of things will be said in the primary, and most of them won’t really matter very much as soon as the nominee is selected,” Blunt said. “I’m for Romney. I think he is the most likely to get elected, and I think he’d be a good president.”

One Republican political consultant based in California said he doubted a Gingrich loss against Obama would sink GOP candidates lower on the ticket. But he predicted that a Gingrich candidacy would create challenges for the party.

The consultant said Republican campaigns would have to turn out GOP voters despite polling that might show Gingrich trailing Obama, while focusing on encouraging voters who might want to vote Republican but can’t stomach Gingrich to split their ticket.

“Other than a convention bounce, it’s hard to imagine Gingrich ever sustaining a lead in the polls, and thus the narrative will become defeatist,” the operative said. “So we’ll have to convince more swing voters to vote GOP for Congress after they vote against Gingrich.”

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