New Hampshire's largest newspaper endorsed Newt Gingrich in the Republican presidential campaign on Sunday, giving the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives a boost in a state where Mitt Romney has been expected to excel.

Newt Gingrich is by no means the perfect candidate, the Union Leader said in an editorial. But Republican primary voters too often make the mistake of preferring an unattainable ideal to the best candidate who is actually running.

The conservative-leaning Union Leader is influential in New Hampshire, where the Jan. 10 Republican primary is seen as crucial for candidates hoping to build campaign momentum.

The newspaper said Gingrich has the experience, the leadership qualities, and the vision to lead this country in these trying times, and it praised his innovative, forward-looking strategy, and positive leadership.

This month Gingrich surged to the front of the Republican field. A Reuters/Ipsos poll showed him with 24 percent support, compared with Romney's 22 percent.

Romney, a former governor of neighboring Massachusetts who owns a vacation home in New Hampshire, has had a commanding lead in most surveys this year and has campaigned actively in New Hampshire.

Romney still has big leads in polls among New Hampshire voters with average support of 36.8 percent to Gingrich's 18.5 percent, according to the RealClearPolitics Web site.

Romney's campaign did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

(Reporting by Bill Trott and Ros Krasny)