WASHINGTON Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich expressed surprise at his recent surge in the polls on Wednesday and offered praise for his rivals, calling Mitt Romney a "great manager."
Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, has gone from an also-ran candidate six months ago to leading some polls of Republican voters in the race to determine the party's nominee to face Democratic President Barack Obama in 2012.
Gingrich and fellow front-runner Romney have exchanged shots this week, Gingrich bringing up allegations of Romney policy flip-flops while Romney denounced Gingrich as a "lifelong politician" who lacks credibility about how the U.S. economy works.
Speaking to Fox News' Sean Hannity, Gingrich said his rise has turned conventional wisdom upside down. No longer is the race about Romney and Romney's chief conservative alternative, he said.
"Whereas I would have thought originally it was going to be Mitt and not-Mitt, I think ... it may turn out to be Newt and not-Newt. And that's a very different formula than, frankly - I mean we're having to redesign our campaign strategy because we're at least 60 days ahead of where I thought we'd be," Gingrich said.
Gingrich is riding a wave of support from conservatives searching for a Romney alternative. He has been on the rise as other challengers have faded, such as Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.
In his Hannity interview, Gingrich appeared ready to back away from a protracted fight with Romney for now.
"Governor Romney is a great manager, has a terrific business career, would be, I think, far better than President Obama, you know," Gingrich said, while also singling out Bachmann, Cain and Rick Santorum for praise.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Philip Barbara)