Gingrich Signals Attack on Leader Romney as Contest Moves to New Hampshire

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has largely refrained from attacking Republican rivals in the race for the party’s presidential nomination, signaled that he is ready to confront Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor favored in early contests.

“We’re going to have a great time with Romney in New Hampshire,” Gingrich said in an interview yesterday with Bloomberg News aboard his campaign bus in Iowa after leaving an event in Storm Lake. “He’ll win, probably, but it will be much more interesting than he wants.”

Romney holds a slight advantage over Republican opponents in a poll this week of likely Iowa caucus-goers in advance of the nation’s first presidential nominating contest on Jan. 3, and he holds a commanding lead heading into New Hampshire’s first party primary election on Jan. 10. Gingrich, who had surged in recent polling, slid in the latest Iowa survey.

Gingrich, in the Bloomberg News interview, said that, while Romney is likely to win the New Hampshire primary, he still will have the resources to carry his challenge forward. The next chances for slowing any Romney momentum would come in South Carolina and Florida party primaries later in January.

While he may not win in New Hampshire, Gingrich said, he can’t skip the nation’s first primary election. “Each race generates a wave of national media,” Gingrich said. “My goal is to have this become a race between a Massachusetts moderate and a Georgia conservative.”

“The trick is to relax and gradually consolidate the conservatives,” Gingrich said.

Freddie Mac

Gingrich, in an interview spanning about 20 minutes, declined to release the financial records of his consulting firm’s agreement with Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage company that paid his firm at least $1.6 million, or for other companies that hired his services.

He said Freddie Mac declined a request to waive a confidentiality agreement to release the records.

Gingrich also said he didn’t believe any of his clients were banks during the federal government’s bailout of financial institutions in 2008. “I don’t believe we had any financial institutions,” he said.

The former House speaker, who has denied lobbying for any of his corporate clients, has faced a barrage of attack TV ads leading to questions from audience members on the campaign trail. At an event in Storm Lake, a man asked Gingrich to explain his relationship with Freddie Mac.

‘All the Zeroes’

“I don’t understand all of the zeroes,” the man said, referring to the $1.6 million Gingrich’s consulting firm was paid. Gingrich thanked him for the question and said he never worked as a lobbyist. He said his firm had a contract with Freddie Mac to consult on strategic issues and was paid over six years. He personally received about $35,000 a year, Gingrich said in the Bloomberg interview.

“I’m a citizen,” Gingrich told the man. “I do my citizen duty; I tell people exactly what I think. I’m not a lobbyist. I have never lobbied once.”

While reiterating plans in the interview to keep his television commercials positive, Gingrich this week has been stepping up criticism on the Iowa campaign trail of his two main rivals, Romney and Texas Representative Ron Paul. A Paul victory in Iowa could weaken the future importance of the caucuses in the nominating process, Gingrich suggested.

Drug Legalization

“It would be very good for the future of the Iowa caucuses for somebody other than Ron Paul to win,” he said in the interview. “Somebody who wins because a lot of college students show up in favor of drug legalization doesn’t exactly strengthen the idea that this is a good environment to fight in.”

Paul, who was the Libertarian Party’s candidate for president in 1988, has argued that states should have the right to set their own laws on matters such as marijuana.

Gingrich, trying to frame himself as the Republican candidate in line with Ronald Reagan’s supply-side economic philosophy, was joined in Storm Lake by Art Laffer, the Reagan- era tax policy expert.

“Of the candidates today, Newt Gingrich is far and away the best person to bring this country back into prosperity -- period,” Laffer said.

First to Fifth

A NBC News-Marist poll of 433 likely Iowa caucus-goers released today showed Gingrich in fifth place in the state, with 13 percent support. Romney led with 23 percent, followed by Paul with 21 percent, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania with 15 percent and Texas Governor Rick Perry with 14 percent. The telephone poll was conducted Dec. 27-28 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.

In the last NBC-Marist survey, in late November, Gingrich led with 28 percent.

“It’s all going to be turmoil until Tuesday night,” he said yesterday on the campaign trail in Sioux City. “On Tuesday, probably a third to half the people that walk in will be open to changing their minds about all of us.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tim Higgins in Carroll, Iowa, at thiggins21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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