Gingrich Seeks to Stall Romney Rise With Abortion Attack Ads

Newt Gingrich
Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich gestures during a campaign stop in Dover, New Hampshire, on Jan. 9, 2012. Photographer: Charles Krupa/AP

After criticizing Mitt Romney in New Hampshire for his investment practices, one of the first attack ads aimed at the Republican front-runner by his presidential primary rivals in South Carolina highlights his changed position from supporting abortion rights to opposing them.

The shift reflects the contest’s change in location. In 2008, 60 percent of Republican primary voters in South Carolina said they considered themselves “born again,” or evangelical Christians, exit polling showed.

The abortion ad is one of several anti-Romney messages now filling the Palmetto State’s airwaves. The good news for the former Massachusetts governor: He and his allies have the resources to match them and hit back before the Jan. 21 primary that may winnow the field.

Television ads promoting Romney, the winner of the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary, are airing about as frequently as spots attacking him, according to an analysis by New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG of South Carolina television markets since Dec. 27.

Romney’s campaign has also jumped ahead on the calendar to air ads in Florida, including a Miami commercial aimed at Hispanic voters in which the candidate and his son deliver their message in Spanish.

Negative Ads

In South Carolina, ads that mention former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Romney’s most aggressive rival on the airwaves, are overwhelmingly negative in tone, the CMAG report concluded.

“The story is an intensifying level of advertising in which Gingrich is still getting pounded, but Romney is now the focus of about as much negative as positive paid media,” the report said. “Romney and his supporters have a lot of their own messaging out there.”

Romney’s campaign announced today that it raised $24 million in the last three months of 2011 and $56 million in the calendar year.

Campaign finance reports due Jan. 31 probably will show Romney is the leader in raising money among the candidates vying to challenge President Barack Obama. Texas Representative Ron Paul is the second-best fundraiser; his campaign reported this week that he took in $13 million in the fourth quarter of 2011 and a total of more than $25 million for the year.

Romney and a political committee supporting him spent $628,700 on television ads in South Carolina as of Jan. 10, CMAG data show. That’s more than seven times the $88,440 that Gingrich spent on ads in the state.

Charleston Market

In the Charleston media market, pro-Romney and anti-Romney ads each aired about 400 times in the past two weeks, while anti-Gingrich ads ran about 400 times and no pro-Gingrich ads appeared, the CMAG report said. In the Columbia market, ads supporting Romney outnumbered those opposing him.

Gingrich’s two South Carolina ads attack Romney, with one saying he espouses “timid” economic policies and the other charging he was “pro-abortion” as governor of Massachusetts.

Romney defended his anti-abortion position in South Carolina.

“I understand that there are some attack ads coming my way that question that and obviously it’s important for me to remind people that I am pro-life,” Romney said today at a news conference in Greer.

‘Corporate Raider’ Ad

In the past few days, Gingrich has attacked Romney’s past service as a private-equity executive at Bain Capital LLC. A pro-Gingrich political action committee, Winning Our Future, began airing an ad today that describes Romney as a “corporate raider” who fired workers in order to boost profits. It’s an excerpt from an almost 30-minute program the group released on its website.

A committee supporting Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is looking to revive his campaign in South Carolina after a fifth-place showing in Iowa and sixth place in New Hampshire, has spent $1.2 million on ads in South Carolina, about one-third of it on a spot attacking Gingrich and Romney. The group isn’t on the air there now. Perry’s campaign spent $96,410 on ads in South Carolina.

The pro-Romney political committee, Restore Our Future, is financing most of the attack ads on Gingrich in South Carolina. One commercial presently airing in four markets says Gingrich “has admitted his mistakes or flipped” positions on issues including immigration and health care. Another commercial that began airing today says Gingrich has been making “desperate attacks” and he’s doing so “because he has more baggage than the airlines.”

Iowa Caucuses

Restore Our Future aired anti-Gingrich ads in Iowa that helped erase his lead in polls and lift Romney to an eight-vote victory in the Jan. 3 caucuses over former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Gingrich finished fourth.

Romney has ignored his Republican rivals in his South Carolina campaign ads, which focus on his economic plans and his criticism of Obama’s labor policies.

Santorum, who is courting South Carolina’s large bloc of evangelical voters, spent $47,910 to air ads promoting his background. Red, White and Blue Fund, a pro-Santorum political committee, spent $72,910.

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