Goodbye South Carolina rabble-rouser Newt Gingrich. Hello Florida frontrunner Newt Gingrich.

The former House speaker created momentum for himself in the GOP presidential race — twice — with fiery debate performances in which he decried elites, attacked the media and cited Saul Alinsky ad nauseam.

But that Newt was nowhere to be seen at Monday’s debate.

Gingrich debuted a new version of himself at the Tampa debate, toning it down and refusing to allow Mitt Romney or the debate moderators to get a rise out of him.

Rather than scrappy outsider, he seemed to be playing the part of staid frontrunner, standing at the top of the hill and daring his opponents to knock him down.

And try they did . In fact, Romney laid out his case against Gingrich during the first half hour of the debate, hitting his work for Freddie Mac, the ad he cut with Nancy Pelosi on climate change and his record as speaker repeatedly, goading him to the point where Gingrich seemed genuinely frustrated with the barrage of attacks.

Gingrich didn’t crack under the pressure, but for the rest of the debate, the unique style and bombast that marked his earlier performances was gone.

Whether it was a calculated move or just a symptom of the circumstances (the campaign didn’t seem to appreciate NBC’s ban on clapping, for example), it was markedly different.

He didn’t mention Alinsky once, mentioned “elites” only in passing toward the end of the debate, and was actually beat to the punch by Romney and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) when it came to mentioning to the hyphenated names of financial reform bills (Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley, etc.).

Instead, he focused intensely on local issues and seemed to be trying to weather the attacks he knew were on their way without a slip-up.

“I’m not going to spend the evening trying to chase Gov. Romney’s misinformation,” Gingrich said after Romney’s first attempt to goad him.

When Romney pressed Gingrich on his work for Freddie Mac — Gingrich released his 2006 contract with the mortgage lender before the debate — the two of them jousted uninterrupted for a few minutes.

“You just jumped a long way over here, friend,” Gingrich said calmly before suggesting Romney’s technique was tiresome.

Later in the debate, the National Journal’s Beth Reinhard pressed Gingrich and the other candidates on why they used Spanish in campaign communications while advocating for English as the country’s official language.

Gingrich for a second seemed to want to rip the entire premise of the question, but he stopped himself and offered a thoughtful response in which he praised multiculturalism but said one language needed to be the standard.

The old Gingrich would have responded much differently.

So is this a good move for Gingrich?

An argument can be made that, at a time when his opponents are attacking him for being a haphazard leader, continuing to be so verbose at debates could be risky.

But that is also what put Gingrich on the map. Debates are essentially Gingrich’s ticket right now — he’s being badly outspent on the air — and it’s curious that he seemed to switch it up on Monday.

We’ll see if it continues at Thursday’s debate and going forward.

We may be dealing with a new Newt.

Gingrich catches Romney in national poll: Gingrich’s surge is registering in the national polls — big time.

The latest Gallup national tracking poll has Romney and Gingrich in a virtual tie, with Romney at 29 percent and Gingrich at 28 percent.

Just one week ago, Romney led Gingrich by 23 points in this poll — a remarkable shift of fortunes and a trend line that has to be extremely troubling for the Romney campaign.

The question now is when does the second Gingrich surge stop, and can Romney make up whatever ground he lost. Because right now, it’s very clear which direction things are headed.

Both Santorum and Paul are in the low teens in the poll.

Adelsons to give another $5 million: More good news for Gingrich. He is about to get another big gift from the Adelsons, with wife Miriam preparing to give a pro-Gingrich super PAC another $5 million check.

The first $5 million check written by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson spurred Gingrich on to victory in South Carolina on Saturday and has been a big help to a campaign that has been strapped financially for some time.

Gingrich continues to get outspent, but the Adelson money and a surge in fundraising with a week to go until the Florida primary has things looking up for him.

Fixbits:

Romney: “If you believe that line — the Newt Gingrich is the outsider that will shake things up in Washington — then I guess you believe that Bill Clinton didn’t inhale.”

Romney broaches New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) as a potential running mate.

Romney’s campaign ups its Florida buy by $2 million, and the super PAC supporting him has bought another $600,000.

Vice President Biden suggests Gingrich’s marriages are fair game in a campaign.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) raised $495,000 in the fourth quarter and has $2 million cash on hand. Businessman John Raese (R), whom Manchin defeated in a 2010 special election, has signed up for another try.

A look at Sen. Maria Cantwell’s (D-Wash.) opponent, state Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R).

Freshman Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) will not face a primary from state Sen. Bill Ketron — a big break for DesJarlais.

Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson (R), who faces a difficult Senate primary, comes out against “right to work” legislation and appears to support a high-speed rail project opposed by the GOP. But then he clarifies that latter position, saying “I have consistently opposed the rail project between Milwaukee and Madison, and I believe Gov. Scott Walker did the right thing to reject the line.”

Must-reads:

Brown, Warren pledge to curb outside campaign spending” — Dan Eggen, Washington Post

Some Signs G.O.P. Establishment’s Backing of Romney Is Tenuous” — Nate Silver, New York Times

Will GOP Risk Goldwater II With Newt Gingrich in 2012?” — Stuart Rothenberg, Roll Call