At Iowa debate, Mitt Romney avoids tangling with Newt Gingrich

To the surprise of many, Mitt Romney, deep into the Fox News debate in Sioux City, Iowa, on Thursday had refrained from attacking front-runner Newt Gingrich a single time.

But it’s clear that Romney’s attacks earlier this week had gotten under Gingrich’s skin. Asked a question about the Keystone XL oil pipeline project, Gingrich said he has been watching his words during the debate and “editing” himself.

“I’m very concerned about not appearing to be zany,” Gingrich said mockingly.

But it’s interesting that Gingrich felt compelled to try to reference Romney’s continued criticism of the former House speaker, as Romney, at that moment at least, had yet to provide him with an opportunity to counterpunch.


In a sense, the debate Thursday night was a return by Romney to a more reserved and focused stance, focusing on ripping President Obama and not allowing himself to be drawn into bloody combat with Gingrich. Several back-and-forths between Gingrich and Romney at the Des Moines debate last Saturday didn’t go Romney’s way, leading to suggestions that the former Massachusetts governor was beginning to flail about.

“It’s President Obama we need to be talking about,” Romney said.

Instead, as in earlier debates, many of the disputes between the GOP presidential contenders occurred away from Romney, such as the fight over Ron Paul’s refusal to pledge to take military action against Iran if it acquired a nuclear weapon or Gingrich’s work for mortgage giant Freddie Mac, which sparked criticism from Michele Bachmann.

Still, it doesn’t mean that Romney has agreed to the cease-fire that Gingrich requested of all GOP contenders earlier this week, when he implored them to direct their energies toward unseating Obama. Even as Romney was trying to take the high road in Sioux City, his campaign sent out an anti-Gingrich mailer.


Nor did Romney escape questions over the perception that he has shifted his position on several key issues. Fox News moderator Chris Wallace pressed Romney on his past positions on abortion and gay rights.

“I changed my mind,” Romney said about his abortion views. “Sometimes I was wrong. Where I was wrong, I’ve tried to correct myself.”

As for gay rights, Romney was blasted by Rick Santorum for not doing more, while as governor of Massachusetts, to take on the Massachusetts Supreme Court over its 2003 decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

“I have been a champion of traditional marriage,” Romney said. “That has always been my view.”