Gingrich Gets Big New Hampshire Endorsement

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has received the coveted endorsement of the highly influential Manchester Union Leader in New Hampshire, a boost for the 2012 Republican presidential candidate and a blow to rival Mitt Romney.

The endorsement of the conservative newspaper's editorial board places an exclamation point on Gingrich's impressive surge from has-been GOP contender to frontrunner, and sets him apart as the new anti-Romney candidate among his competitors.

"Newt Gingrich is by no means the perfect candidate. But Republican primary voters too often make the mistake of preferring an unattainable ideal to the best candidate who is actually running. In this incredibly important election, that candidate is Newt Gingrich," the editorial board wrote in Sunday's edition.

The Leader added in a banner headline across the front page that the former Georgia lawmaker has something the rest of the candidates don't -- a track record of success in Washington.

"America is at a crucial crossroads. It is not going to be enough to merely replace Barack Obama next year. We are in critical need of the innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership that Gingrich has shown he is capable of providing," the endorsement reads.

"He did so with the Contract with America. He did it in bringing in the first Republican House in 40 years and by forging balanced budgets and even a surplus despite the political challenge of dealing with a Democratic president. A lot of candidates say they're going to improve Washington. Newt Gingrich has actually done that," it continues.

The Union Leader has long had great sway in Republican politics in the state. The newspaper used page one editorials and columns to help John McCain win the state's primary four years ago and start the Arizona senator's path to the GOP nomination.

Gingrich's campaign responded with a statement saying the endorsement demonstrates that Gingrich is now the "consensus conservative choice."

"With today's endorsement by one of the country's most important conservative barometer, the Manchester Union Leader, the paper that was among the first to champion Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich has solidified his hold as the conservative frontrunner in the 2012 presidential race," the campaign said in a written statement.

Jon Huntsman, another GOP candidate who has been rising from the back of the pack to the middle of the leader board in New Hampshire, said the endorsement "once again proves ... how fluid and unpredictable new Hampshire is."

Huntsman added that a month ago it would've been "unthinkable" that Gingrich would have won the Union Leader's endorsement so anything can happen.

It's also a blow to Romney, who had met several times with publisher Joseph W. McQuaid, and whose strategy relies heavily on winning New Hampshire in a crushing victory so that he appears the inevitable candidate.

Despite the endorsement for his opponent, the former Massachusetts governor, who owns a home in New Hampshire, still maintains his commanding lead in the state, according to fresh polls.

A new Suffolk University/7News survey shows Romney garnering a whopping 41 percent of Republican voters. Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul are tied for a distant second place with 14 percent.

Romney has also racked up an impressive share of endorsements, including New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Charlie Bass.

But the endorsement suggests Gingrich has the potential to beat Romney in The Granite State primary, the first in the nation, which follows just one week after the Iowa caucuses.

Fox News' Serafin Gomez contributed to this report.