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The revival of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid crystallized Sunday when he received the front-page endorsement of the most influential conservative newspaper in New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state and a must-win for frontrunner and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

“We are in critical need of the innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership that Gingrich has shown he is capable of providing,” reads the editorial in the Union Leader, which also includes jabs at Romney’s reputation for flip-flopping and lacking a core.

“We don’t back candidates based on popularity polls or big-shot backers. We look for conservatives of courage and conviction who are independent-minded, grounded in their core beliefs about this nation and its people, and best equipped for the job.”

Gingrich is set to enjoy a continued flood of free media in the coming days, many of them glowing press accounts that revel in the drama of his candidacy, one that was written-off when most of his campaign staff quit over the summer. The former Speaker’s poll numbers have bounced back in recent weeks, largely on the strength of his seasoned disposition, a relatively steady command of the issues, and a perception among Republican activists that he has the mettle to debate Barack Obama next fall.

Supporters of the resurgent Gingrich will no doubt point to John McCain’s back-from-the-dead New Hampshire win in 2008. He, too, had to contend with an exodus of key campaign staff in 2007, only to earn the Union Leader endorsement and roar back to win the state’s primary and eventually his party’s presidential nomination. And the newspaper’s backing, as Nate Silver shows, has historically been a leading indicator of the success of Republican hopefuls.

What we do not yet know is whether the largest newspaper in the Granite State will choose to run a sustained campaign in favor of Gingrich (and more important, against Mitt Romney — as it did in scathing editorials throughout late 2007 and early 2008 after having given the nod to McCain).

In any case, the backing of a respected conservative institution gives Gingrich an opportunity to coalesce the leftover segments of the Republican establishment (and grassroots activists) who for at least a year have been desperately seeking out someone — anyone — with solid conservative credentials and a combative demeanor (read: not Mitt Romney) to make Barack Obama a one-term president.

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