Romney Back In Front-Runner Mode In Republican Race

Republican U.S. presidential contender Mitt Romney, once the leader and presumed nominee, is back in front-runner mode.

Less than three weeks before Iowa kicks off the state-by-state Republican battle to find a challenger to President Barack Obama, polls show support for main rival Newt Gingrich may already be softening.

Romney also won an important endorsement on Friday from South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

With other contenders scrambling to slice up Gingrich, Romney was a model of decorum at the final Republican debate on Thursday before Iowa kicks off the nominating race on January 3.

Romney let rivals Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann lead the way in attacking Gingrich and stayed well above the fray. He even exchanged compliments at times with Gingrich, the former House of Representatives speaker who has rolled past him in polls in the last month.

"His whole goal now is to get back to being the 'safe and steady' candidate. He can let his surrogates do the work for him," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said.

"He doesn't even need to win Iowa, he just needs to make sure that Gingrich doesn't - and Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann can help him with that."

After a week of intensifying criticism of Gingrich's temperament and judgment, climaxed when Romney called him "zany," his attack machine went dark when the debate lights went on.

A Rasmussen poll showed Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has a slight lead over Gingrich in Iowa, a state Romney has largely bypassed this year after spending millions there in 2008 only to lose.

Polls show Romney also still has a commanding lead in New Hampshire, the state where he has focused his efforts, putting him in prime position to put a stranglehold on the race with strong performances in the first two contests.

Read more from John Whitesides at Reuters

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published this page in In The News 2011-12-16 20:00:00 -0500
Analysis & Political Strategy