In the category, of “whoa, whoa, whoa”, the New Hampshire Union Leader (a.k.a. Manchester Union Leader), the state’s largest and most influential newspaper backed Newt Gingrich for President.

According to 2010 figures, the paper’s daily circulation topped 48,000 and its Sunday circulation was just short of 64,000 subscriptions.  Previously owned by conservatives William and “Nackey” Loeb, who shaped the political landscape in New Hampshire up until the passing of the latter of January 2000, the Union Leader is the most coveted newspaper endorsement in the state.

In a headline reading – “For President, Newt Gingrich”, the newspaper once again defied the odds by not backing favorite son and front runner Mitt Romney.  They’ve never been one to back frontrunners based on popularity or polls.

The paper’s editorial page editor Andrew Cline quite emphatically told CNN that their choice was between Texas Governor Rick Perry and the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Cline called GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney a “play-it-safe” candidate and appreciated Gingrich’s bold vision for where to take the country and how to get there.

While the Union Leader has held tremendous perceived influence in the New Hampshire primary, its picks haven’t often won the state’s primary, the nomination or the presidency.  Except for President Ronald Reagan, who the paper picked in 1976 & 1980, the paper’s endorsees have not won the White House.

In 1988, the Union Leader’s chose one; Pete du Pont was a footnote.  In 1992 & 1996, Pat Buchanan’s “peasants are coming with pitchforks” and “ride to the sound of the guns” slogans won him the New Hampshire primary in 1996 but didn’t get him the GOP nomination either time.  Another footnote was 2000 endorsee Steve Forbes.

The newspaper did pick John McCain in 2008 who won New Hampshire and the GOP nomination – but not the presidency.

That said – the tone of the newspaper endorsement will help Gingrich – if he in fact is able to muster the money and manpower to get the message out:

“America is at a crucial crossroads. It is not going to be enough to merely replace Barack Obama next year. We are in critical need of the innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership that Newt Gingrich has shown he is capable of providing.”

“Republican voters too often make the mistake of preferring an unattainable ideal to the best candidate who is actually running,” writes the paper’s publisher, Joe McQuaid.

It’s true.  Republicans continue to look for “the next” Ronald Reagan.  Who wouldn’t when the Great One remains ingrained in our memories as the “best of” GOP Presidents?  He ended the Cold War, got the economy back on track and made us feel better about ourselves.  Any of us who were among his foot soldiers longs for days gone by.  It’s hard to admit those days are gone.

But new times require bold, innovative leaders.  It won’t be enough in Obama’s case to continue to blame George Bush, because he hasn’t found the right recipe to create jobs.  He was virtually silent during congressional “super committee” deliberations on budget and tax proposals, and has alienated partisans on both sides of Capitol Hill.

Unlike Obama, Gingrich would be someone who understands Congress and how to get things accomplished in spite of his laundry list of mishaps which tarnish his electoral chances.

Republicans will be battle-tested after numerous debates and next month, we’ll start to see the results of their efforts to court voters in the important Iowa Caucuses on January 3rd and the New Hampshire primary on January 10th.

The State of New Hampshire will be one early state critically important to ongoing electoral success.  Voters may follow the Union Leader’s example and choose someone bold, innovative, creative, and tested – but who will that be?  History proves the state’s influence on the nomination process, but not necessarily who becomes president.