"A funny thing happened over the past 48 hours or so," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post: Newt Gingrich officially "became the frontrunner for the Republicans presidential nomination." After Gingrich's strong debate performance over the weekend, and Romney's $10,000 bet flub, Gingrich told New Hampshire voters on Monday, "I'm now, I think by a big margin, the frontrunner." And Romney essentially conceded the point. When asked by Politico if Gingrich is the frontrunner, Romney said, "He is right now." Romney went on to say that he still thinks he'll win the nomination, but perhaps only after an epic months-long battle with Gingrich. Is Mitt's embrace of the underdog mantle a nod to reality, or a clever tactical move?
Mitt is accepting reality, but not defeat: Romney "admitting that Newt is the frontrunner" has a whiff of "playing the game of lowering expectations," says Jazz Shaw at Hot Air. But it's also a clear-eyed concession that Gingrich is on top, and isn't fading away like all the other non-Romneys. The race isn't over, though: "Mitt could hang around for some time to come," thanks to his huge war chest and top-notch organization.
"Romney: Newt is in front, but this thing could go until June"
And Romney still has a good shot at victory: Sure, Gingrich is the clear frontrunner right now, says Amy Walter at ABC News. But "Romney remains the odds-on favorite for the nomination" among top GOP strategists. Why? Everyone thinks Newt can't help but self-destruct. Romney's real problem is the clock — will Gingrich implode in time? — and the fact that his campaign has "few good options" to speed up Newt's downfall.
"Romney, the underdog"
Regardless, Mitt's underdog strategy is risky: Romney "seems more than happy to hand off the frontrunner title" to Gingrich, says Cillizza in The Washington Post. He'd love to let Newt wither under the klieg lights. Historically, Gingrich "doesn't run all that well from the front of the pack." But Newt isn't guaranteed to implode, and adopting the frontrunner mantle gives Gingrich access to the two things he needs most: Cash and campaign talent. Only one of these men can win this high-stakes gamble, and we'll find out who soon enough.
"Newt Gingrich, frontrunner"