WASHINGTON -- Joe McQuaid, president and publisher of the New Hampshire Union Leader -- the dominant newspaper in a crucial early primary state -- likes Newt Gingrich's idea of firing unionized school custodians and replacing them with working students.
The idea pushes several of McQuaid's conservative buttons: unions, school administrators and lazy kids. "It would teach them the value of work, and they could get paid right there, where they go to school. It would save money. I think it's a very good idea."
McQuaid also likes -- or at least doesn't reject -- Gingrich's proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. with "red cards" as long as they show that they have deep-rooted and law-abiding ties here in the form of families and jobs.
The proposal is supposedly anathema to hardliners and Tea Partiers, but McQuaid disagrees. "I consider myself a hardliner," he said.
McQuaid also expressed admiration for Gingrich, whom he has known and interviewed several times over the years, on a personal level.
Although Gingrich did not bring up the subject of his faith, McQuaid -- a devout, socially conservative Catholic -- took fond note of the former speaker's conversion to Catholicism a few years ago.
"I told him that he had taken on a lot by becoming a Catholic and a golfer at the same time," McQuaid recalled. "We laughed about it."
After Mass last Sunday, Gingrich emailed McQuaid his views on the newly-reworded service that had recently been instituted by Rome. "He told me that it was going to take some getting used to."
As simpatico as McQuaid and Gingrich are -- and becoming -- it's the opposite story between the editor and the former governor of Massachusetts.
"Did you see that 'Saturday Night Live' skit about him last week?" McQuaid asked me. "Perfect."
Indeed I had. SNL's Jason Sudeikis played Romney as a glaringly phony candidate whose aides have told him to get "15 to 17 percent more edgy." A "Raw and Unplugged" Romney tries to portray himself -- unsuccessfully -- as a wild and crazy guy who makes mistakes like a Perry and hits on women like a Cain.
"He unbuttons his suit coat to show that he's edgy," the editor recalled, "and then he buttons it again because he is uncomfortable. Hilarious. And true."
It's not a surprising thing or necessarily fatal to Romney's chances that McQuaid regards him as a phony worthy of ridicule in SNL.
But it's not good news.
As the political world well knows, McQuaid endorsed Gingrich for the GOP nomination over, among others, Romney -- who has a big lead in most New Hampshire polls. The former governor of Massachusetts has made a heavy investment in the state, and has lined up most of the GOP establishment in his effort to win the state.
Four years ago, McQuaid and the Leader endorsed Sen. John McCain, who went on to beat Romney by 6 points in the New Hampshire primary.
The fact that Romney is way ahead in the state, and the fact that he has reordered his views to make them more palatable to Tea Party tastes, left McQuaid cold.
Readers, he wrote, "know that 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 about this nation and its people, and best equipped for the job.
In other words: not Mitt.
With its 64,000 Sunday circulation and 1.6 million monthly unique visitors online, the Union Leader and Sunday News are by far the leading paper in the state, and with their conservative tradition -- the paper favors low taxes, little government regulation and small governmental budgets -- McQuaid plays an outsized role, especially in Republican presidential primary contests.
His candidates don't always win, but the candidates he decides to go after almost always lose. Expect McQuaid, who writes and runs front-page editorials -- a rarity in modern newspapering -- to pay close and antagonistic attention to Romney.
"We've always done those editorials, going back many years," he said. "And I'm a traditionalist."
WATCH The SNL Romney Skit:
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