Gingrich Takes On Romney in New Hampshire

Gingrich Takes On Romney in New Hampshire

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - January 4, 2012

CONCORD, N.H. -- With a fourth place finish in Iowa behind him, Newt Gingrich hit the ground running here Wednesday morning as he aimed to make the first-in-the-nation primary a battle between himself and Mitt Romney.

In the days before New Hampshire voters head to the polls on Jan. 10, the Gingrich campaign is focused on "setting a contrast between a Massachusetts moderate and a Reagan conservative and how big the differences are," the former House speaker told reporters after a morning town-hall meeting with voters. "I suspect it's going to be a very lively campaign."

Gingrich, who attracted 13 percent of the support in Iowa Tuesday night, conceded that Romney will do "fairly well" in New Hampshire but said "in the end [he] has very limited appeal." Gingrich dinged the former Massachusetts governor for winning by just a handful of votes in Iowa after having "run twice and spent millions of dollars" in the state. "The fact is, three-fourths of Republicans rejected [him]," he said.

Gingrich said that he was a "conservative leader over the past generation" while Romney moved to the left of the Republican Party in running for public office in Massachusetts -- a narrative that New Hampshire voters are likely to hear a lot of from the former congressman over the next six days.

His campaign also took out a full-page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader, which endorsed Gingrich in late November, that contrasts his and Romney's records.

The latest tracking poll from Boston-based Suffolk University, released Wednesday, shows Romney with a commanding lead in the state. He attracts 43 percent of the vote there. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who finished third in Iowa, gets 14 percent, Gingrich has 9 percent, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman -- who is hoping for a Rick Santorum-like rise in New Hampshire -- receives 7 percent. Santorum has inched up to 6 percent.

Derry resident Ross Forbes hasn't decided on a candidate yet, but he attended Gingrich's Concord town hall -- where the speaker, with wife Callista at his side, talked about education policy and the need to refocus the system on "earning self-esteem, not being given self-esteem." He also talked about the need to "modernize" the employment compensation system so that the government will "never again pay anybody for 99 weeks for doing nothing." Forbes told RCP he thinks Gingrich is the only candidate who has been truly vetted for office. He said Gingrich's fourth-place finish in Iowa doesn't bother him but that Santorum's second-place showing makes the former Pennsylvania senator a more attractive candidate.

While Gingrich talked up his campaign in Concord, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann dropped out of the race. Gingrich called her "courageous" and said he would support her House re-election bid or a future run for statewide office. He said her supporters will likely defect to himself and Santorum.

As the field winnows, "it becomes more and more obvious that people go to anybody but Romney," Gingrich told reporters.

Though Gingrich attacked Romney during the press conference, he didn't mention his chief rival during the town hall that preceded it. He said he was having a genuine discussion about education with the people who wanted to be there, adding, "I know this is hard sometimes for those of you who specialize in covering the carnage of politics."

Gingrich will host four more town-hall meetings on Thursday around the state. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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