Dec. 31 (Bloomberg) -- With emotions running high in the final days of the Republican presidential campaign in Iowa, Newt Gingrich wiped away tears yesterday while recalling his mother’s struggles with illness as he and his rivals in the race worked to lock down support in the Jan. 3 caucuses.
“I do policy much easier than I do personal,” Gingrich said, his voice breaking with emotion at an event in Des Moines aimed at mothers.
The moment, reminiscent of one then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton had four years ago, came as a NBC News-Marist survey released yesterday showed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney leading the Republican field in Iowa with 23 percent, followed by Representative Ron Paul of Texas with 21 percent.
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania had 15 percent, followed by Texas Governor Rick Perry at 14 percent, Gingrich at 13 percent and Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann at 6 percent.
In a NBC-Marist survey late last month, Gingrich led with 28 percent. The current telephone survey, conducted Dec. 27-28, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.
Gingrich’s backing has dropped as attacks against him by other candidates and groups associated with them escalated.
About 10 times more anti-Gingrich ads have aired in Iowa than commercials that support him. More than $2.5 million has been spent attacking Gingrich, compared to just over $250,000 spent in his favor, according to data compiled by CMAG/Kantar Media, a New York-based company that tracks political spending.
“This is a wild and woolly campaign,” Gingrich told supporters last night in Creston, Iowa.
He also shrugged off the latest poll, saying “no one knows who’s going to decide to show up” to the caucuses.
At the earlier appearance in Des Moines, Gingrich was asked about his mother and how she shaped his life by moderator Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster.
The former U.S. House speaker from Georgia recalled his mother as happy and joyful, and discussed her living in a long-term care facility to help treat her bipolar disease and other physical ailments before her death in 2003.
“My whole emphasis on brain science comes in directly from dealing, um,” he said, as his voice broke and tears welled in his eyes.
“See, I’m having emotion,” he continued. “From dealing with the real problems of real people in my family.”
Clinton, now serving as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, briefly shed tears at a 2008 campaign event in New Hampshire as she sought the Democratic presidential nomination that year. Clinton, then a U.S. senator from New York, won the state’s primary the next day after trailing in the polls to Obama, then a senator from Illinois.
Romney ended a three-day bus tour through Iowa yesterday with a morning rally where several hundred supporters gathered in a cold, drizzly rain to see him speak in a parking lot in West Des Moines.
He was joined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who playfully told voters to back Romney or else he “would be back, Jersey style.”
After the event, Romney flew to New Hampshire for a 36-hour campaign swing. He’ll return to Iowa today and stay until the morning after the caucuses, a sign of confidence about his prospects in the state. In past campaigns, candidates worried about their showing in the caucuses typically have left Iowa by then to try to limit the importance placed on the outcome.
As Romney’s Iowa crowds have grown, his rivals have battled to emerge as his chief challenger.
In New Hampshire, a group supporting former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. released new television ads blasting Romney as a political “chameleon.”
The ad campaign sponsored by Our Destiny PAC is the most direct attack yet aimed at Romney.
“Two serious candidates remain,” says a narrator in the spot, flashing photos of Huntsman and Romney. “One willing to say anything, be anything. One who can actually do the job.”
Huntsman isn’t competing in the Iowa race, focusing his efforts instead on New Hampshire, where the nation’s first primary will be held Jan. 10.
Democrats also are ratcheting up their fire at Romney. The Democratic National Committee yesterday released another in a series of web videos depicting him as out of touch with the economic anxieties of average Americans. The video criticized Romney, whose financial disclosure in August estimated his personal wealth at as much as $250 million, for saying he probably wouldn’t release his tax returns if he wins the Republican nomination.
“What is Mitt Romney hiding?” the video asks.
Paul yesterday offered tepid praise for his major rival in the Iowa race.
“I think he probably understands how the market works as a businessman a little bit better than a guy like Gingrich,” Paul said of Romney in an interview airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.”
Still, Paul said he doesn’t think Romney has “convictions that come close to mine,” and that he views all of his rivals as being political insiders.
“I put them all in the same category,” he said. “They all are part of the status quo.”
After campaigning yesterday in western Iowa, Paul took a break from the state to spend the New Year’s weekend with his family. He’ll return on Jan. 2 to conduct a daylong whistle-stop tour across five counties with his son, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Bachmann spent her day meeting voters at coffee shops in Sioux City. She plans to visit her state campaign headquarters in Urbandale today and join student volunteers making calls to voters on her behalf.
Santorum, who has seen his support rise in recent polls after campaigning almost solely in Iowa for months, spent part of his day in Ames, home of Iowa State University. He hosted a “watch party” at a sports bar where patrons watched Iowa State’s football team play New Jersey’s Rutgers University in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
Rutgers triumphed, 27-13, in the game played at New York’s Yankee Stadium.
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