Newt Gingrich defended himself from a barrage of attacks -- including an unflattering comparison to television comedienne Lucille Ball -- as he leveled some of his strongest criticism yet against his rivals in the Republican presidential race, especially Ron Paul.
Paul, a Texas congressman who has one of the strongest Iowa campaign operations and a chance at winning the state’s Jan. 3 caucuses, has accused Gingrich of “serial hypocrisy” in his television ads. The former U.S. House speaker responded yesterday in an interview with CNN by saying he likely couldn’t vote for Paul, even if his other option was Democratic President Barack Obama.
“You’d have a very hard choice at that point,” said Gingrich, whose poll numbers have sagged in the face of criticisms from Paul and others. “I think Barack Obama is very destructive to the future of the United States. I think Ron Paul’s views are totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American.”
Gingrich said Paul has a “record of systemic avoidance of reality,” and pointed to questions over incendiary statements in newsletters produced under his name in the mid-1990s, including that citizens arming themselves was natural because of carjackings by “urban youth who play whites like pianos.”
Paul has disavowed the statements and said he never saw them until years later.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney took note of Gingrich’s failure to get enough signatures in Virginia -- where he lives -- to be on the March 6 primary ballot there.
Pearl Harbor Comparison
“I think he compared that to, was it to Pearl Harbor?” Romney said in comments to reporters during a stop yesterday in New Hampshire before he headed to Iowa. “It’s more like Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory. I mean, you know, you got to get it organized.”
Michael Krull, Gingrich’s campaign manager, over the weekend compared the setback to the surprise Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Romney’s analogy pointed to an “I Love Lucy” television episode where the title character becomes overwhelmed by the speed of a conveyor belt at a candy factory where she is working.
In the CNN interview, Gingrich responded to the Lucille Ball comment by reiterating his challenge to Romney to a one-on-one debate.
“I’d love for him to have the courage to back up his negative ads,” he said.
The back-and-forth came one week before voters in Iowa will start to winnow the Republican presidential field by attending 1,774 precinct caucuses statewide in gatherings that mark the start of the nomination voting.
Gingrich and Romney yesterday made their first forays into Iowa since a quiet campaign weekend in observance of the Christmas holiday. Paul will join the group today, and all three will spend the majority of the week in the state amid a final flurry of bus tours, television ads and campaign phone calls.
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Texas Governor Rick Perry and U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota are also crisscrossing the state on buses as they compete for the votes of social conservatives who have yet to coalesce around a single candidate.
Perry also failed to make the Virginia ballot. His campaign said in a news release yesterday that it would challenge the decision in federal court.
Hurt in the polls by poor debate performances, Perry has focused on courting social conservatives in Iowa in a bid for a strong caucus showing.
Speaking to potential caucus-goers in Osceola yesterday, Perry heightened his opposition to abortion, the Associated Press reported. He said he now opposes it for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, according to the AP. In the past, he said he believed abortion was acceptable in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is at risk.
Gingrich, in his interview with CNN while he campaigned in Dubuque, Iowa, dismissed a Wall Street Journal story yesterday that outlined how in a 2006 memo he praised the health-care law Romney helped put in place in Massachusetts as governor. Gingrich now attacks the measure, which included for state residents an insurance mandate that is central to the federal health-care legislation Obama pushed into law last year.
“Where Romney and I are different is I concluded that it doesn’t work,” Gingrich said when asked about a government mandate for health insurance. “He still defends it.”
Romney has said he opposes the federal mandate.
During most of his campaign day, Romney aimed his fire at Obama, offering a preview of an argument he would like to make in a general election.
Speaking in Davenport, Iowa, Romney assailed the White House for being unable to pull the country out of what he termed “The Great Obama Recession.”
“Mr. President, you’ve had your moment,” he said. “We’ve seen the results. And now, Mr. President, it is our time.”
The speech, billed by aides as Romney’s closing argument to Iowa voters, accused Obama of transforming the country into an “entitlement society” dependent on government aid.
“This election is about more than replacing that president; it is about saving a vision of America,” Romney told a crowd of several hundred gathered in a hotel ballroom. “It is a choice between two destinies.”
Ben LaBolt, Obama’s campaign spokesman, responded with a statement charging that Romney “believes in skewing the playing field toward those at the top while leaving Americans facing a challenge on their own.”
As of last week, Gingrich had spent just one-fifth of the amount of money on advertising promoting his candidacy as his opponents and their backers had spent attacking him and his record, according to Kantar Media’s CMAG, a New York-based company that tracks the expenditures.
Restore Our Future, a political action committee supporting Romney, has spent about $670,000 on commercials criticizing Gingrich as someone with “a ton of baggage,” and Paul has spent about $50,000 on spots critical of Gingrich.
Gingrich continued to defend his work for Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage company that paid his consulting business at least $1.6 million after he left Congress. He said most of the money went to overhead and that his personal annual share was about $35,000.
“This would be like ascribing to Romney all of the income of Bain Capital,” he said on CNN, referring to the Boston-based private-equity fund his rival co-founded. “He knows better, his staff knows better.”
Gingrich’s primary contact inside the organization was Mitchell Delk, Freddie Mac’s chief lobbyist, and the former speaker was paid a monthly retainer of $25,000 to $30,000 between May 1999 until 2002, according to three people familiar with aspects of the business agreement.
On the campaign trail, Gingrich criticized Romney’s stance on taxes, calling him a “Massachusetts moderate,” as he pledged to “dramatically” cut taxes.
“It’s a pretty simple message: We know how to create jobs, we know to create economic growth,” he told reporters in Dubuque. “We can go back and do it again and contrast that with Governor Romney, who as a Massachusetts moderate raised taxes on businesses, created a larger government, imposed greater cost on business.”
The negative ads against Gingrich came up twice while he was taking questions at a Rotary Club lunch in Dubuque.
“The only person these negative ads are helping is Barack Obama,” Gingrich said. “The commercials we’re about to put up are all positive, they all go straight at how do you create jobs and how do you get the right things done.”