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Under Attack, Gingrich Struggles To Regain His Stride In Iowa

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich complained about negative ads against him during a campaign stop at the National Toy Farm Museum on Dec. 27 in Dyersville, Iowa.
Scott Olson
Getty Images
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich complained about negative ads against him during a campaign stop at the National Toy Farm Museum on Dec. 27 in Dyersville, Iowa.

If you're in Iowa this week, you'll need to watch out for campaign buses. Several Republican candidates are on bus tours of the state — including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

For Gingrich, it's something of a comeback tour. After leading in the polls, he's had setbacks in recent days. Negative campaign ads by his opponents have hurt him with some voters. And news stories have raised questions on everything from his health-care stance to his first divorce, more than 30 years ago.

One ad from Rep. Ron Paulattacked Gingrich this way: "He's demonstrating himself to be the very essence of the Washington insider. It's about serial hypocrisy."

That commercial is one of a deluge of attack ads targeting Gingrich in Iowa over the past few weeks. Many of the attacks have been launched by Restore Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Romney.

They've taken a toll — pushing the former front-runner back to third place in most Iowa polls.

At the Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville Tuesday, Gingrich had a question for his audience: "How many of you have received enough negative information that you're tired of it?"

Much of Gingrich's problem is that he just doesn't have the money to match the millions Romney, Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are spending on campaign ads.

His campaign has begun running some ads this week. And he's being helped by Winning Our Future, a pro-Gingrich Super PAC that's spending a $250,000 on Iowa ads. The first one asks voters not to let the "liberal Republican establishment" pick the GOP candidate.

Gingrich says he's warned the PAC that he'll disavow their ads if they go negative.

"I am not going to negative, period. And I'm appealing to the people of Iowa — you have a chance to send a message in the caucus to send a signal to the whole country that the age of the consultant-driven, dishonest negative commercials is over. And the easiest way is to simply reuse to vote for people who run those kind of commercials," he said.

At stops through northeastern Iowa yesterday, Gingrich took questions from voters and discoursed widely on everything from supply-side economics to the Dred Scott decision.

At the Farm Toy museum, voter Larry Swanson said he found Gingrich refreshing and yes, he's seen the attack ads. "We get phone calls and we get stuff in the mail," he said. "The negative ads, I don't really always believe them or pay a lot of attention because they're always, usually distorted, I think."

That's the kind of Iowa voter Gingrich is depending on.

But his problems go beyond attack ads. Gingrich's campaign is still smarting from his failure last week to qualify for the primary ballot in Virginia.

It's a significant setback for a campaign that still has little staff on the ground in key states.

In New Hampshire earlier Tuesday, Romney — sitting atop a huge war chest and campaign organization — couldn't help but gloat.

"I think he compared that to ... Pearl Harbor? I think its more like Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory. I mean, you know, you've got to get organized," Romney said.

Despite his pledge to remain positive, it's clear that the Gingrich is frustrated that he's been put on the defensive by the attacks. Here's what he had to say on CNN when Wolf Blitzer asked him about Romney's comments:

"I have a very simple message for Mitt Romney. I'll meet him anywhere in Iowa for 90 minutes, just the two of us in a debate with a timekeeper, no moderator. I'd love to have him say that to my face. I'd like him to have the courage to back up his negative ads."

Also Tuesday, Gingrich was forced to answer questions about two potentially damaging news stories. The Wall Street Journal reported on a 2006 Gingrich newsletter in which he called Romney's Massachusetts health care plan — the one he attacks daily — as "the most interesting effort to solve the uninsured problem in America today." Gingrich said he changed his mind since then after seeing the health care plan in action.

And CNN uncovered new information about Gingrich's first divorce, more than 30 years ago. Court papers show, despite his campaign's claims to the contrary, Gingrich's first wife Jackie didn't want the divorce and struggled with him over child support.

Gingrich said he stands by the campaign's version of events. "There are a lot of things that are said in divorces," he said, "that turn out not to be true."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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