Newt Gingrich: Comeback Candidate of the Year

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DES MOINES, Iowa - The presidential campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich could be the comeback story of the year.

He's risen from a summer disaster to leading the polls in early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina.

For months, Gingrich's poll numbers sat in the single digits. Then, a series of strong debate performances started moving the needle.

They showcased his intellect, ideas and experience. Gingrich also stood out for what he did not do -- attack his colleagues.

"They (voters) are hungry for somebody that can stand up to Obama in the debate, and they do not like to watch Republicans attack each other," Gingrich told CBN News.

"So, every time these guys have had consultants be clever, they've actually weakened themselves in the attack, and that's part of it," he said.

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The other part of Gingrich's success seems to be his boldness and the ability to throw political correctness out the door.

"I would say to the government of Iran today, 'You have a short time to solve this on your own, and if you don't, we will solve it for you. And we frankly couldn't care less what the rest of the world thinks,'" Gingrich once said.

Not the Typical Politician

Although Gingrich is a Washington insider, he often talks like an outsider who's fed up with politicians.

Speaking to reporters about the infamous "supercommittee" tasked with tackling America's debt problems, Gingrich called the ordeal a "fiasco from the beginning."

"So I haven't paid any attention," he said. "I just assumed it just reached its natural conclusion, which was failure."

This isn't the first political rodeo. While on the campaign trail, Gingrich told CBN News his approach is different this time around.

He's smoothed the edges of the hard charging 40-something speaker of the House he once was. Now, Gingrich tunes into his wise grandfather side.

"Oh, I'm much better now. I waste less energy. I do fewer dumb things," he said.

The 'Arrogance' America Seeks?

In an attempt to derail the Gingrich train, opponents are trying to convince voters that he's not as conservative as he says. Others point to an arrogance that's turned off some Republicans over the years.

Yet, in a strange way, it's that self confidence and bravado that could work to his advantage.

"The press looks at the bombastic Newt and thinks this is a joke, this is not someone who can be a compelling leader," said Time magazine senior political analyst Mark Halperin.

"I think a lot of voters in the conservative movement want someone who is like Churchill, want someone who is like Reagan. Want someone who is big and an historical figure," he said.

"And while Gingrich, when he talks about himself that way turns off some elites, I think some voters actually like it," he continued. "And look to that and say, 'We want to beat Barack Obama. We need someone bigger than life, someone who thinks of themselves bigger than life in order to win.'"

For Gingrich to win, he will need a strong showing from evangelicals who represent huge voting blocks in the early states of Iowa and South Carolina. And the candidates seems to be aware of this need.

"Our Judeo-Christian civilization is under attack from two fronts," Gingrich said recently. "On one front, you have a secular, atheist, elitism. And on the other front, you have radical Islamists."

"And both groups would like to eliminate our civilization if they could. For different reasons, but with equal passion," he said.

Escaping the Past

Still, Gingrich also has his challenges. He's made recent statements about whether life actually begins at conception. And, his past infidelity may remain an issue with some voters.

"I want to know who are you today. Which man are you today? Which man would you be as president? I would want to sense a real change in his moral character," said Penny Nance, president and CEO of Concerned Women for America.

Gingrich has said he asked God for forgiveness, and has been happily married for more than 12 years now.

Whatever the outcome, Gingrich said he understands the challenge ahead will be hard.

"The President of the United States is much more than manager of the American government. He or she is the leader of the entire American family," Gingrich said.

"And that is a really extraordinary spiritual, psychological, historical, cultural job that transcends politics," he said. "And I think the great presidents all know that."

"It is very sobering to realize that we're doing well enough that, you know, I could end up having to face an enormous challenge next year," Gingrich added.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week revealed 33 percent of likely caucus voters prefer Gingrich over the other candidates. Mitt Romney and Ron Paul tied for second.

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David Brody

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David Brody is an Emmy Award-winning veteran news journalist who has interviewed many prominent national figures during his career of nearly 25 years. Currently, David covers the White House and interviews national newsmakers across the country.  Follow David on Twitter @TheBrodyFile and "like" him at Facebook.com/TheBrodyFile.