"We are in critical need of the innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership that Gingrich has shown he is capable of providing," the New Hampshire Union Leader said in its front-page editorial, which was as much a promotion of Gingrich as a rebuke of Romney.
"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."
The Union Leader's editorial telegraphed the fact that conservatives' concerns about Romney's shifts on crucial issues of abortion and gay rights are unlikely to fade. Those worries have led Romney to keep Iowa's Jan. 3 caucuses - where conservatives hold great sway - at arm's length.
At the same time, the endorsement boosts Gingrich's conservative credentials. He spent the week defending his immigration policies against accusations that they are a form of amnesty. On Monday, Gingrich takes a campaign swing through South Carolina, the South's first primary state.
Even Democrats on Sunday were noting Gingrich's rise.
"He's clearly a smart guy," said Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York. "I give him some credit for not just blowing with the winds on an issue like immigration. That showed some real courage."
Romney, taking a few days' break for the Thanksgiving holiday, has kept focused on a long-term strategy that does not lurch from one development to another.
The Union Leader's rejection of Romney was not surprising, despite his efforts to woo state leaders. The newspaper rejected Romney four years ago for Arizona Sen. John McCain. Romney's advisers were quick to point out that Gingrich went into October with more than $1 million in campaign debt. Romney, meanwhile, was sitting on a pile of cash and only last week began running television ads.
The duo's rivals, meanwhile, tried to gain traction.
Herman Cain on Sunday criticized any immigration proposal that included residency or citizenship, but struggled to explain how he would deal with the millions of people estimated to be living illegally in the United States. Cain has seen his luster fade as he had trouble articulating nuances of his policy positions and faced accusations of sexual harassment.
While Romney enjoys solid support in national polls, many Republicans have shifted from candidate to candidate in search of an alternative to Romney. That led to the rise, and fall, of challengers such as Cain, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Romney enjoys solid leads in New Hampshire. A poll released last week showed him with 42 percent support among likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire. Gingrich followed with 15 percent. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas posted 12 percent support, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman found 8 percent support in that survey.