Mitt Romney, responding to a growing challenge from Newt Gingrich in the Republican presidential race, said he is ready to draw distinctions with Gingrich as he makes “closing arguments” to voters resisting his candidacy.
Romney, who has spent most of the year at or near the top of polling of the contest yet has been unable to lock up a majority, said he doesn’t expect to secure the nomination quickly and is signaling a more aggressive media and retail politicking offensive beginning this month.
“We’re making our closing arguments -- you’ll see me campaigning aggressively,” the former Massachusetts governor told reporters in Paradise Valley, Arizona, yesterday where he stopped for the endorsement of former Vice President Dan Quayle and attended a fundraiser.
“This will probably take longer than a week or two to sort out,” Romney said. “My expectation is that this is going to be a campaign that’s going to go on for a while, and I expect to win it.”
Romney’s push comes as Gingrich has surged past him in polls. A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted Nov. 30 to Dec. 4 showed Gingrich, a former U.S. House speaker, ahead in Iowa, where caucuses start the nominating process on Jan. 3.
Gingrich, whose campaign was near collapse a few months ago, drew 33 percent support from likely caucus participants in the poll, compared with 18 percent for Romney and Texas Representative Ron Paul.
Romney, who has focused most of his campaign attacks on President Barack Obama, sounded a more confrontational tone toward Gingrich yesterday, calling him a career politician and “insider,” and promising to be “loud and clear” in highlighting the contrasts between himself and the former Georgia congressman.
“Speaker Gingrich is a friend,” Romney told Fox’s Neil Cavuto in an interview. “I respect him, but we have very different life experiences, and if the American people believe that what we need is someone who’s spent the last 40 years or so in Washington, D.C., working as an insider, why he’s the right guy. America needs a leader right now -- not so much someone who’s an insider.”
One place Romney won’t be making that case is at a debate scheduled Dec. 27 in New York City to be moderated by Donald Trump, the real estate developer and reality-show host. Romney said he spoke with Trump by telephone to reject his invitation, which Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry have accepted.
Calendar Is Set
“We’ve already set our calendar in December, and I communicated to Mr. Trump that that schedule is completed,” Romney said.
Today, Romney spoke at a candidate forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington.
“President Obama has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East,” Romney said, by nor being more supportive of Israel.
Nearly all of the Republican candidates have attempted to make Israel an issue in the 2012 campaign. Obama has said his administration has done more for Israel’s security than any of his predecessors.
Quayle’s endorsement -- the latest in high-profile nods Romney’s campaign has rolled out from elected Republicans or party veterans -- showcases the base of support he has built as Gingrich seeks to grow his.
Quayle, who served as vice president under George H.W. Bush from 1989 until 1993, offers Romney the stamp of a Republican administration of the past with less of the baggage associated with the more recent Bush presidency.
Former President George W. Bush, a Texas Republican, is regarded with suspicion by some fiscal conservatives who believe he presided over a dramatic expansion of government, including the addition of an unfunded prescription drug benefit to Medicare, and unpopular with some independent voters who associate him with the war in Iraq.
Quayle said he is backing Romney in part because he is the most electable of the Republicans running.
“He is our best hope to change the direction of America, and after he hopefully wins the primary -- which I’m very confident that he will do -- he’ll bring the party together,” Quayle told about 150 Romney supporters in the driveway of an inn in the Phoenix suburb where he lives. “He’ll reach out to disaffected Democrats, to independents.”
Romney visited the elder Bush in Texas last week.
“Where Romney is in trouble is with those people who liked the first President Bush and liked Quayle,” said Bruce Merrill, a pollster with the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. “Republicans, particularly the Tea Partiers and the right wing, are not coming around to Romney.”
While Merrill said there’s no evidence that endorsements such as Quayle’s have much impact, Romney has made them key to a campaign strategy that is relying heavily on surrogates to trumpet his message and woo voters who have resisted being drawn into his camp. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican who flirted this year with his own run and is popular among fiscal conservatives, has also endorsed Romney and is scheduled to campaign for him tomorrow in Iowa.
Romney’s campaign today announced he will visit the state the next day, hosting a town hall meeting in Cedar Rapids on Dec. 9. He also will participate in a televised presidential debate Dec. 10 in Des Moines.