The New New New Newt

Right on schedule, Gingrich surges in the polls. Can he force a showdown with Mitt Romney?

Danny Wilcox Frazier for TIME

Newt Gingrich, with wife Callista, at a campaign stop in Carroll, Iowa.

Newt Gingrich was grinning like a benchwarmer who'd just broken into the varsity lineup. A local GOP official had introduced him to a packed room of supporters in Jefferson, Iowa, as the Republican presidential race's new front runner. "That's the first time that anybody anywhere has introduced me as the leading candidate," Gingrich said. And that has the sometimes grumpy former Speaker in an excellent mood.

He has come a long way from midsummer, when he confronted what he describes as a "near death experience": humiliating poll numbers, scorn and ridicule from erstwhile allies, a mass defection of his top aides...

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