Neither Gingrich nor Hammond gave any hints Wednesday that Gingrich will attack Santorum more energetically than before. In three Ohio campaign stops on Tuesday, Gingrich's few mentions of his rival from Pennsylvania generally focused on Santorum's complaints that Gingrich's space exploration plans are too costly.
Gingrich's top advisers recently huddled for several days in Las Vegas. They concluded that Romney's flaws, including what many perceive as his being dodgy and untrustworthy, would eventually drag him down, said one participant, who would speak only on background because the meetings were private. Now that Romney's "inevitability" has been fractured even earlier than expected, the adviser said, Republicans will scrutinize Santorum and Gingrich as bona fide possibilities to face Obama.
Gingrich's advisers say they believe the former speaker will fare better because he has more ambitious ideas and a stronger ties to GOP accomplishments of the past three decades than does Santorum.
Of course, Gingrich also has a legacy of ethical problems and feuding with lawmakers in both parties, as Romney noted in his many TV attack ads in Iowa and Florida.
Hammond said voters are drawn to Gingrich's "statesmanship" qualities. That doesn't prevent Gingrich from denouncing Obama in condescending tones, calling him "the best food stamp president" in U.S. history.
Rep. Phil Gingrey, a Georgia Republican who backs Gingrich, says there is risk in veering too far to the nice-guy side.
"What would the results in South Carolina have been if he didn't fight back?" Gingrey said. "I say don't hold anything back. He needs to do what he needs to do to win."
Associated Press writers Shannon McCaffrey in Georgia and Brian Bakst in Texas contributed to this report.
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