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Noting "Nastier" Attacks, Gingrich Will Make Adjustments

Noting "Nastier" Attacks, Gingrich Will Make Adjustments

By Erin McPike - January 1, 2012


ATLANTIC, Iowa -- To Newt Gingrich, the Republican primary is just beginning.

Although he has suffered a dramatic slide in Iowa polling over the past month -- apparently a consequence of negative advertising directed his way -- he's telling voters he's still very much in the game.

"This is the opening three minutes of the Super Bowl," he told reporters after a town-hall meeting here. "We’re learning a lot about what our opponents will do. They are nastier and more dishonest than I expected, so we’ll have to make some adjustments."

To his audience gathered Saturday inside the Atlantic Bottling Company's warehouse, he said the results of Tuesday’s caucuses could be "very interesting." He challenged Iowans to give him a victory to send a message that negative ads don't work.

Gingrich’s opponents have aired ads attacking his consultant work for the quasi-governmental housing giant Freddie Mac. Although his firm collected $1.6 million when he advised the lender, he personally picked up about $35,000 annually, he said.

Nevertheless, the attacks have hurt. And asked if he’ll respond by doing the same, he said, “We may go to a much more clear contrast, but we’re not going to respond in kind. Those ads are dishonest, and [Mitt Romney] knows it. They are factually false, and he knows it. We’re not doing anything like that.”

The former speaker invited attacks on his record while in government but denounced the personal attacks that he believes are unfair and incorrect. Going forward, for example, he said he might talk about how Romney supported taxpayer-funded abortions in Massachusetts while he himself never has. And, in response to a question about the individual mandate in health care legislation, he said, "The difference between Romney and me is I figured out it wouldn’t work, and he still hasn’t."

To a voter who inquired about his compensation from Freddie Mac and who said the ads have given her pause, he replied that his campaign mishandled the response from the beginning because they didn’t think it would become the problem it did. And he explained an old ad he cut with Nancy Pelosi about the threat of climate change by simply saying it was dumb.

The woman who asked the question, Eleanor Becker, said she wanted to vote for Gingrich but was unsure because of the ads. She said later his response satisfied her and she will now caucus for him on Tuesday.

Gary Nelson, 76, said he was first interested in Rick Perry, but after about two debates "I was licking my chops" for Gingrich, he said, and Nelson now intends to be a precinct leader for him. What sealed the deal, he explained, was when he received a robo-call informing him that Gingrich has been a long and avid supporter of the Second Amendment.

Gingrich isn’t softening his trademark bluntness in the final sprint to the caucuses. Asked by a voter if he thought the country was safer under President Obama than President Bush, Gingrich answered no -- but that the country wasn't safe enough under Bush either. Neither president, he argued, fully grasped the threat of radical Islam.

And asked about his qualifications for an executive role, Gingrich pointed out that he led the U.S. House of Representatives as speaker, has run several small businesses and served as a senior military adviser.

"I think getting the nomination will be harder than beating Obama," he said, adding, "I'm not a moderate, I'm not timid, I'm not confused about this."

He did, however, concede that he was "sad" that there aren't a few more debates before the caucuses. And asked if he thought his recent tearful moment talking about his mother’s illnesses would help or hurt his campaign, he said, "I have no idea." He continued, "I was talking with Frank Luntz about my mother; I wasn’t trying to figure out how it would impact this campaign."

And how is Gingrich really feeling now that his fate is almost upon him? "Fine," he said, "I’ve campaigned most of my life." He added, "I actually like campaigning" because he gets to talk to voters and the press. 

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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