's lead in state and national polls appears to be evaporating. And holding steady, as he seemingly has throughout the Republican presidential race, is
Some have argued that the former Massachusetts governor's inability to break through the mid-20% range is a sign that
would never rush to embrace him as their nominee. But Romney argued Tuesday that it's a sign of strength.
"I'm happy with the fact that I've been either at the top or next to the top through the whole process. That's pretty darn good," he said on
"Morning Joe." "Everybody else has gone up and down, or gone from a very low number to a high one and then back down again. So to be able to be steady through this and build some support over time is a good sign."
Two new national polls out Tuesday morning have Romney tied with Gingrich at the top of the GOP's presidential field.
News/Washington Post poll has the two at 30% each, followed by
at 15%. A
News survey has Gingrich and Romney at 20%, with Paul at 10%.
Just a week ago it seemed that Romney was in a desperate place, lashing out at Gingrich as "zany" in one of the increasingly frequent media interviews he's done.
But after a strong debate performance on Thursday, it seems the winds have changed. A week ago, he called Gingrich the GOP front-runner. Now he says that lead is slipping, just as it did for others.
Romney is still taking on Gingrich, rejecting the former House speaker's claim that he's the more conservative of the two. Romney zeroed in on two areas -- cap-and-trade and the
budget plan -- in which he said Gingrich "came down on the side of the liberals."
"Newt Gingrich stood up -- well, sat down -- with
and pushed cap-and-trade legislation, did an ad about global warming. That is not conservatism," he said.
Romney outlined a path to the nomination, saying his goal was to climb into the 30% range in the polls as the first primary votes are cast, and then, as the field narrows, to continue climbing until he claims the delegates he needs.
But he was still managing expectations, saying only that he hopes to "do well" in Iowa's leadoff caucuses, and that New Hampshire, where he has long held a sizable advantage, was not necessarily a must-win.
"I don't think today you have to win anything," he said. "The only thing you have to win is 1,150 delegates. If one of the people on the stage doesn't win the first two, I wouldn't write them off."
Romney said he did not think the nomination fight would be so fractured that it would go all the way to the convention, though he added that he's prepared for a long battle.
"We have built enough resources, raised enough money to have a campaign that will go to the very, very end," he said.