Of the three Republican contenders who planned to speak at CPAC — Ron Paul oddly decided to take a pass this year — Newt Gingrich might have needed the biggest boost.  Gingrich felt right at home at CPAC, as he has had long ties to the annual gathering of conservative activists.  He needed to reconnect to the activist base and cast himself as an ambassador of sorts for their anti-establishment approach to the GOP.  After all, as Gingrich reminded people at the beginning of his speech, CPAC exists because of conservative discontent with the Republican Party establishment.  Gingrich emphasized his ability to bring real change rather than “manage the decay” throughout his speech:

Clearly, Gingrich understood the stakes involved, and the crowd responded with a great deal of enthusiasm.  This was the Newt Gingrich that ran on his own ideas, the one who caught fire in November for very good reasons.  Instead of spending time launching attacks on Bain Capital, Gingrich simply suggested that his competitors represented the old party establishment and that they would say “profoundly untrue” things about him to keep their grip on power. Instead of an angry address bordering on bitterness and spending time complaining about financial disadvantages, Gingrich stuck to the issues and the ideas that attracted voters to him in the first place.

Was this a game changer?  He certainly seemed to win the enthusiasm and entertainment battle between the three candidates, although Santorum did well and Romney was at least enthusiastically received.  I suspect, though, that this will be the speech that gets the most discussion over the next 24 hours here at CPAC.  I’m not as sure that this will change much on the ground for Gingrich, but it certainly did him no harm.

The attacks he made stuck mainly to Barack Obama, which had the crowd cheering:

“By the time I am sworn in, [Congress] will have repealed Obamacare,” Gingrich said, explaining that he would ask Congress to get to work on the repeal beginning January 3, 2012, after its Christmas recess. “It will have repealed [the Dodd/Frank financial reform bill]. It will have repealed [the] Sarbanes-Oxley [Act]…That’s a reasonable start.”

He said that “by the time President Obama lands in Chicago we will have repudiated at least 40 percent of his government on the opening day.”

Gingrich won his loudest applause with his promises to repeal the president’s landmark bills. He spent less time attacking his GOP rivals than the other Republican presidential candidates did in their remarks at CPAC today — and also appeared to get a less enthusiastic response from the crowd.

If Gingrich can remain this focused on the campaign trail, he might find a way to make life difficult for Romney and Santorum.  At the very least, he did exactly what he needed to do here, and even if the rest is out of his hands now, this was a fine speech to finish the day.