TODAY   |  December 09, 2011

Can Gingrich stay ahead of Romney?

Just three-and-a-half weeks from the Iowa caucuses, the battle for the Republican presidential nomination appears to be shaping up into a two-man race. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

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>>> now to presidential politics . we're just 3 1/2 weeks away from the iowa caucuses and the battle for the republican nomination appears to be shaping up into a two-man race between mitt romney and newt gingerich . chuck todd , chief white house correspondent, good morning.

>> good morning, david.

>> we've been talking about gingerich and romney and this two-man dynamic now. you see romney starting to respond to that. not just going after obama, now taking on gingerich. how is he doing it?

>> he's doing it twofold right now. the first thing is to get surrogates the. one thing that is out there is there is a ton of republicans who have worked with newt gingerich who want to do whatever it takes to stop newt gingerich . on one hand, that's good news for mitt romney . he has plenty of resources to tap into. the other thing he's using is the so-called super pac and money. you're going to see millions of dollars, in fact, it might be the largest ad ever placed in the state of iowa by his super pac, which, of course, they technically don't coordinate, but we know they're previewing a potential gingerich spot. what's unclear is whether this could work in a year where money hasn't mattered the way it's mattered in the past.

>> and step back for a second and let's talk about gingerich. we look at all the polling this week seeing him shooting ahead. what's driving that if you look inside the polls?

>> everything is about the fact that he's winning the tea party conservative, the anti-washington, anti-establishment feeling that dominated the republican party in the 2010 election. it's still there. it's about half of the electricat. and that's helping him inversely what's hurting romney is that conservatives don't believe he's a conservative. so gingerich is viewed as the lone alternative there. and one thing gingerich has going for him that i think the establishment underestimates with newt -- and yes, he's had different positions and different issues over the years. he is seen as being there at the seminole moment of the conservative movement , and that was winning back congress, something that at the time in 1994 hadn't been done in over -- almost two generation peps.

>> let met talk about president obama . he's not talking about the republican field. he's letting surrogates do that. but this was an exception. he's been attacked this week by republicans for practicing an apology of appeasement in foreign affairs . he had a pretty briefing yesterday in the briefing room. this is what he said.

>> ask osama bin laden and the 22 out of 30 top al qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether i engage in appeasement. or whoever is left out there, ask them about that.

>> that sounded like a president that said, if you want to have this fight, let's have this fight.

>> i think he would love to have a foreign policy conversation. that's why you're not going to hear this much. look, the republicans were at a republican jewish coalition meeting this -- so, you know, they were talking a lot about iran and israel, but i can promise you this, david, whoever the nominee is, they're not going to have a foreign policy conversation. they want to have an economic one. they're going to hear the president say three words, osama bin laden .

>> chuck todd this morning, thank you very much.

>>> ron paul will be one of our exclusive guests this sunday on "meet the press." also going to talk to dick durbin and republican senator lindsay graham as they debate the fight for the middle class that president obama talked about. 7:14 now. once again,