Asked if the former House Speaker is the front-runner, Romney replied bluntly: “He is right now.”
Romney made it clear that he would rather lose than make incendiary charges about Gingrich that could help President Barack Obama in the general election. And the former Massachusetts governor said the nomination “is not going to be decided in just a couple of contests” and “could go for months and months.”
So the Romney campaign’s “inevitability” strategy is officially over. But could his preparation for a drawn-out primary be just as intimidating to the other candidates? Gingrich may be leading in the polls, but it’s hard to believe he’s prepared to fight Romney in every primary until June.
A drawn-out race would likely favor Romney over Gingrich, since Romney has spent more than a year building an operation to compete in each primary. His self-discipline will also be an advantage – except for the $10,000-bet comment, Romney’s had few slipups. Clearly the Romney campaign also expects that a long race would give Gingrich more time to say something controversial and torpedo his own campaign.
Romney’s self-diminishing comments could also be designed to pump up Gingrich, who has already been calling himself the “big-margin front-runner.” The Romney campaign may have good reason to believe that Gingrich’s confidence will end up backfiring. After all, the former Speaker hasn’t spent much time in Iowa or built a strong get-out-the-vote network there. Success in Iowa relies heavily on strong grassroots organization — without that, Gingrich may want to be careful about raising expectations.