By Cameron Joseph -The Hill
Mitt Romneyâ€™s campaign showed signs of strain this week as Newt Gingrich rose in the polls, Democrats increased their attacks and the former Massachusetts governor stumbled in a national interview.
â€œIt certainly hasnâ€™t been a good week,â€ said Al Cardenas, who worked for Romney in 2008 but has remained officially neutral in the race because he now runs the American Conservative Union.
Strategists say no long-term damage has been done, but caution that Romney needs to get back on message soon â€” especially with the early-nominating contests approaching (the Iowa caucus is Jan. 3 and the New Hampshire primary is Jan. 10).
â€œHeâ€™s run an almost flawless race up to this point, and this week for the first time you saw a series of missteps by the campaign and the candidate,â€ said one unaffiliated senior Republican strategist. â€œWhat led him to have the bad interview is whatâ€™s dangerous â€” getting concerned about Gingrich, not being as disciplined and getting agitated. If these are a pattern that continues over the upcoming weeks, he could have a problem. His strength is his [message] discipline and being able to talk about the economy. If he gets undisciplined and talks about other things thatâ€™s going to be a problem.â€
Part of what has thrown the Romney campaign for a loop is Gingrichâ€™s unexpected front-runner status. The former House Speaker stumbled several times out of the starting gate, and his campaign was left for dead. But several strong debate performances and his refusal to attack his fellow Republicans has helped boost Gingrich to the top of the polls.
Democrats, meanwhile, finally got under Romneyâ€™s skin with a minor ad buy attacking him for being a flip-flopper. In the interview with Fox News that day, Romney grew exasperated with questions about his shifts on policy views ranging from abortion to climate change. Afterward he confronted Baier and told him the questioning was â€œover-aggressiveâ€ and â€œuncalled for,â€ according to an account by Baier.
His campaign also launched a heavy response to the Democratic ad that some observers saw as an overreaction by his team. The campaign set up a dozen conference calls in a full-court press against the Democratic charges. The Democratic National Committee put little money behind the ad, and the reaction likely drew more attention to the charges than if Romneyâ€™s campaign had simply ignored them.
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