Newt Gingrich, underfunded, sliding in the polls and the object of a negative ad war by a group that supports his chief GOP presidential rival, accused former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney of lying about his ability to control the negative messages his supporters are disseminating about the former House speaker.
Gingrich singled out TV ads that are barraging Iowa voters, using a series of tattered valises to accuse the former House speaker of having too much “baggage.”
“ I don’t object to being outspent, I object to lies,” Gingrich told reporters in a feisty press conference Tuesday after he spoke to a group of employees at a manufacturing plant here in rural Southeast Iowa. “I object to negative smear campaigns.”
At an afternoon press conference following his tour of the Al-Jon manufacturing plant here in southeast Iowa, Gingrich read from a news report about Romney’s TV appearance Tuesday morning with MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. Gingrich quoted Romney as saying that so-called super PACS, which operate with few financial restrictions and are not supposed to coordinate or communicate with individual campaigns, damage the political process and should be “eliminated.”
But, continued Gingrich, reading the Politico account, when Scarborough pressed Romney on whether he would call on the group, Restore Our Future, to stop running attack ads against Gingrich, Romney demurred, claiming that he is “not allowed to communicate with the super PAC in any way, shape or form.”
But Restore Our Future, said Gingrich, was “created by his former staff and financed by his personal friends. He wants to stop it . . . he can demand every ad be positive.” Gingrich said he has been told that Restore Our Future plans to spend $1.4 million in the next week. (The caucuses take place on Jan. 3.)
Gingrich called Romney’s remarks “palpably misleading, clearly false and are politics in its worst form.” The Romney campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Picking a fight with Romney over staying positive puts Gingrich in a delicate position, since as he did so, he decried Romney as a liar who is engaged in “dirty work.”
When a reporter asked Gingrich to explain the difference between being negative and saying your opponent is dishonest, Gingrich replied, “I am not running an ad. I am standing here talking to you at a press conference, saying that what he said this morning cannot in any way be classified as candid or accurate . . . . You have to reserve some right to correct the record.”
And, because Gingrich cannot resist the opportunity to tweak reporters, he added, “I want to see how you turn the request to be positive into an attack: ‘Gingrich viciously attacked today by asking his opponent to be honest.’”
But even Gingrich had to admit that he has engaged in negative campaigning against Romney. Last week, for example, after Romney hit Gingrich for accepting more than $1.6 million from the mortgage giant Freddie Mac, which many conservatives blame for the mortgage meltdown, Gingrich accused Romney of making his millions as a leveraged buyout specialist by decimating companies and destroying jobs.
“I’ll confess once or twice I slipped up,” Gingrich told supporters who turned out to see him in the café of the HyVee grocery store in Mt. Pleasant on Tuesday morning. “The other day, Mitt got my goat a little bit and I bit back, but I shouldn’t have.”
And when reporters pointed out that Rick Tyler, a former staffer of Gingrich’s, had just joined the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning the Future, Gingrich made a distinction between Romney’s hands-off stance and how he plans to deal with the PAC.
“If Rick Tyler wants to do positive ads within the current law, I would encourage people to give money to his PAC,” said Gingrich. “If Rick Tyler runs negative ads, I will discourage anyone from giving him a penny.”
With Gingrich’s wife, Callista, perched on a table next to reporters, the candidate said the solution to the negative influence of super PACs was easy, and all in Romney’s court:
“All he’s gotta do is simple,” said Gingrich, who said Romney should simply say, “‘I condemn any further negative ads, I ask that PAC to run only positive ads.’ Anything short of that is baloney and we ought to understand that it’s baloney. These are his people running his ads, doing his dirty work, while he pretends to be above it.”