Laconia, New Hampshire (CNN) – Fourth-place Iowa finisher Newt Gingrich refused to congratulate Mitt Romney for eking out a narrow caucus victory but acknowledged that, unlike Ron Paul, he would endorse the former Massachusetts governor if he clinched the Republican nomination.
Gingrich told reporters in New Hampshire, “Romney is better than (President) Barack Obama, period. I think there are huge weaknesses of Romney. I don’t think he can get elected but if he’s the nominee I would support him.”
- Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @PoliticalTicker
The former House speaker is honing his message on the trail, drawing sharper contrasts to the frontrunner ahead of the first-in-the-nation primary on January 10.
His first assault was a full-page ad in New Hampshire’s influential Union Leader newspaper Wednesday that compared the record of “bold Ronald Reagan conservative” Gingrich to “timid Massachusetts moderate” Romney.
The most biting statements Gingrich unleashed on his opponents didn’t come on the stump before New Hampshire voters but through that newspaper ad and press availabilities.
The Gingrich campaign said it also plans to release television ads in the same vein this week in the Granite State, as well as in the early primary voting states of South Carolina and Florida.
Speaking to reporters in Concord and Laconia, Gingrich cast the two-time presidential candidate as unelectable because he won Iowa by a small margin on Tuesday and picked up only 66 more votes than in 2008.
“I find it amazing the news media continues to say he is the most electable Republican when he can't even break out in his own party,” Gingrich said in Concord. “But the fact is that Gov. Romney in the end has a very limited appeal in a conservative party. And by the way - you look at the dollars spent by Romney and the dollars spent by (Rick) Santorum, you'd praise Santorum, too.”
He added in Laconia, “The idea that (Romney’s) electable is just silly.”
Although Gingrich rarely mentions Romney by name, he is bringing up presidential opponent Texas Rep. Ron Paul regularly in his stump speech. It’s one indication that Paul’s groundswell of grassroots support in early nominating states poses a threat to Gingrich's candidacy.
“This is not some shallow PR game by some politician. This is a candidate for president who says 9/11 is America’s fault, the Iranians can have a nuclear weapon and he doesn’t care, and if Israel disappears it is not our problem. I think that needs to be taken head on,” Gingrich said of Paul, who came in third in Iowa behind Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Gingrich is hoping his new strategy will pay dividends in New Hampshire - at least chip away at Romney’s lead - and pave the way for a win in South Carolina.
“In this campaign so far I've been dead once, resurrected, limping along, the frontrunner, drowned in a tidal wave of Romney and Ron Paul negative ads, recovered - so I don't worry about much of anything,” he said.
– Follow Shawna Shepherd on Twitter: @ShepherdCNN.