Can Newt Gingrich make another come back?

at 06:30 AM ET, 01/17/2012

Newt Gingrich had one of his best debates of the 2012 presidential race on Monday night.

But does it even matter at this point?

There are plenty of signs that Gingrich has little room to grow in the GOP presidential race, even as he appears ready to test that perception.
Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney listens as former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R) makes a point during the Republican presidential candidates debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C. on Monday. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)

The former House speaker actually began the debate on his heels a bit, with Fox News debate moderator Bret Baier challenging him on his earlier pledges to remain positive in the presidential campaign (Gingrich previously zinged Fox moderators for trying to get the candidates to fight with each other). Gingrich also headed off some questions about race that could have tripped up a lesser debater.

Through it all, Gingrich was cool, calm and collected, picking his spots and coming off as the clear onstage alternative to frontrunner Mitt Romney — just as the other candidate for that position, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, was largely an afterthought and struggled to get his voice heard.

That’s exactly what Gingrich needs. But even moreso than Santorum, it appears Gingrich has little room to grow.

“not enough to make newt electable,” GOP strategist Alex Castellanos tweeted after Gingrich tussled with debate moderator Juan Williams. “nothing can do that. but he gets a bump.”

Recent polling shows Gingrich is among the most disliked Republicans in the country, even when it comes to Republican-leaning voters.

So even if he shows some resilience in the GOP presidential race, the universe of voters that Gingrich can add from this point on might actually not be enough to help him win many votes — or at least, enough to come close to victory.

A recent Fox News poll showed Gingrich’s favorable and unfavorable ratings at 49 percent and 39 percent among registered Republicans. Needless to say, having nearly four in 10 Republicans against you is extremely rare for a Republican politician, no less one who is trying to win his party’s nomination.

In fact, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), whose ceiling in the GOP presidential race is supposed by many (including The Fix) to be not far above where he is now, has essentially the same unfavorable rating among Republicans as Gingrich — 41 percent.

Gingrich probably has a higher ceiling than Paul, especially given that he is seen as more of a traditional Republican. But the fact that Gingrich engenders nearly as much opposition in the GOP as a libertarian-leaning foreign policy non-interventionist like Paul is significant.

Over the weekend, leaders of a group of conservatives that met in Texas to pick their candidate settled on Santorum (though some insist it wasn’t very clear-cut) as their choice against the prohibitive frontrunner Romney. And Tuesday’s debate showed Santorum and Gingrich jockeying for that position.

The fact that Gingrich came out of the debate looking like Romney’s top competition is probably good news for Romney, given how little room Gingrich apparently has to grow.

NetCoalition goes up with ad buy against web regulation: A coalition of some of the biggest names on the Internet is going up with an ad buy in eight states seeking to make an issue of proposed laws that would increase regulation of the internet.

NetCoalition, which includes Google, Yahoo!, Amazon.com, eBay, Expedia and Wikipedia, will run ads in opposition to the two laws before Congress — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) — in key electoral states including Montana, Nevada and Ohio, all three of which are holding top 2012 Senate races.

The ads make the case that the new regulations will decrease innovation and kill jobs.

“Supporting job-killing regulation doesn’t make sense from a policy or political perspective, and these ads all speak to that,” said NetCoalition spokesman Brian Jones. “NetCoalition will continue to talk about this issue, inside and outside the beltway.”

The issue has begun to gain attention in recent days, as President Obama, Romney, and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have weighed in. In addition, Wikipedia will be closing down its website for 24 hours this week in protest.

In total, the ads will run in 14 media markets. A spokesman for NetCoalition wouldn’t publicly comment on the size of the buy.

RNC touts turnout: The Republican National Committee is set to come out today with a memo arguing that “the GOP has the momentum,” pointing to voter registration upticks in Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

“In every battleground state for which there is relevant registration data available, the GOP has either narrowed the registration gap or increased our lead since 2008,” RNC political director Rick Wiley writes in the memo, a preview of which was provided to The Fix. “And that’s bad news for Democrats.”

The 2008 election helped Democrats build a voter registration advantage across the country, but that edge has been worn down over the past three years. Catalist, a Democratic data firm, recently told the Wall Street Journal that Democratic rolls are dwindling. Democrats went from a two-to-one advantage in new voter registrations in 2008 to falling slightly behind Republicans in 2011.

Gallup polling on party affiliation shows a similar trend.

Wiley also cites increasing GOP turnout in Iowa and New Hampshire, although in both states turnout was only slightly higher than in 2008.

Shifting views on the economy — slightly: Americans think the economy is getting a little bit better. Or, at least less bad.

A new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows the percentage of people saying the economy is “very poor” has dropped from 51 percent to 38 percent — perhaps a reflection of some encouraging jobs numbers in December.

Still, though, most of those people merely downgraded their assessment from “very poor” to “somewhat poor,” and about eight in 10 Americans continue to rate the economy as one of the two choices involved the word “poor” — a reflection of continued dissatisfaction.

That said, if things are headed in the right direction, that matters and probably helps Democrats, who hold the White House.

Notably, the poll also shows Obama in a statistical tie with both Romney and Paul.

DeMint won’t endorse: South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R) made it official on Monday — he’s not endorsing anyone in the runup to Saturday’s primary in his home state.

The tea party favorite previously said he was unlikely to endorse, but now it’s 100 percent.

“I do not have a favorite in this race and I will not endorse a candidate,” he told supporters in an e-mail.

DeMint is a potential kingmaker and backed Romney four years ago, when the former Massachusetts governor finished fourth. But since then, DeMint has taken a more active role with conservative outsider Senate candidates that are often favored by the tea party, and Romney doesn’t exactly fit that mold.

Fixbits:

Romney takes a 23-point lead in the latest Gallup national tracking poll.

A key Perry supporter in South Carolina urges Perry to drop out.

Gingrich turns his fire on Santorum, in addition to Romney.

Congressional disapproval hits 84 percent in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Former U.S. surgeon general Richard Carmona (D) begins his Arizona Senate campaign with a pretty solid first quarter of fundraising, pulling in $570,000 in his first six weeks as a candidate.

Herman Cain will campaign for Georgia congressional candidate Martha Zoller (R), who like him is a radio talk show host, later this month.

Will former congressman and 2010 Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak attempt a return to the House?

Must-reads:

National Polls Suggest Romney Is Overwhelming Favorite for G.O.P. Nomination” — Nate Silver, New York Times

Before Karen met Rick” — Nancy Hass, Newsweek

Huntsman’s Piety Cost Him the Primary” — John Heilemann, New York Magazine

Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.

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