Anyone who watched last weekend’s GOP debate now has a strong sense about what the Republican candidates know for sure: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is currently the one to beat. Time after time, the candidates seemed to take turns throwing political grenades in Gingrich’s direction. Some landed and others did not. But the target was unmistakably Gingrich.
During Saturday night’s showdown in Des Moines, Iowa, Gingrich took shots over alleged infidelity, his $1.5 million plus salary from housing giant Freddie Mac and his characterization of Palestinians as an “invented” people.The debate comes on the heels of an American Research Group poll which shows that Gingrich enjoys a less-than-comfortable five percent lead over Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
Charles Chamberlayne, policy analyst and former Republican hill staffer said, “Nobody wants to be second place, so you always want to aim for the top. In the 100-meter race, you want to be Usain Bolt. In this race, that’s Newt.”
But during an interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes, President Obama seemed almost nonchalant, saying he won’t spend time worrying about his future challenger, adding, “When the Republican Party has decided whom its nominee is going to be, then we’ll have plenty of time to worry about it.”
One of the main criticisms that Republicans have against Obama is that he is the campaigner-in-chief, who is using his office to move his re-election campaign forward. “So it’s understandable why the president would put forth the image that he’s pushing because it makes him appear to be more the president than someone who is campaigning,” said Chamberlayne.
Obama reinforced this reasoning during the television interview when he said, “All I can worry about is making sure that every single day, the steps I’m taking, I believe, are advancing an agenda that leads to America’s success over the long term.”
Meanwhile, Gingrich appears to be picking up steam in states like South Carolina, prompting the Democratic Party to release its first web attack video painting Gingrich as a Tea Party candidate.
With the Obama campaign now awakening to the rise of Newt Gingrich, is their measured response appropriate in the heated, high-stakes 2012 election campaign?
“The campaign is a moving ball right now, so it doesn’t make political sense for the Obama campaign to begin mounting up stuff because the pendulum moves with each candidate,” said Zina Pierre, political strategist and President of Washington Linkage Group. “If I were giving Democrats advice, I’d tell them to do exactly what they’re doing. It would be futile to expend time on a candidate that could switch next month. The polls change. People change.”
Only time will tell if Newt’s front-runner status is fleeting or will force the Obama campaign into a full-court press. The final debate before the Iowa Caucuses is set for Thursday in Sioux City, Iowa. And whether they admit it or not, you can bet that both Democrats and Republicans will be anxious to see if Newt will maintain his position at the head of the class.
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(Photos from left: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images, Alex Wong/Getty Images)