DAVENPORT, Iowa — Newt Gingrich, bringing his campaign back to Iowa today as state and national polls show his lead in the Republican presidential race softening, scolded his rivals for the contest’s negativity.
“What the campaign should really be about is who has the best ideas, who has the best solutions,” the former House speaker told about 100 people in the garage of a security company in Davenport. “It’s very disappointing,” he said, to see his fellow Republicans putting “out so much negative junk.”
Campaigning in Hiawatha, Gingrich called on his competitor Mitt Romney to stop airing an attack ad sponsored by a group supporting his campaign. “If you see Romney, ask him to take it off the air,” he told voters gathered in the warehouse of an apparel manufacturer.
The pro-Romney group, Restore Our Future, has spent $550,000 on ads in Iowa and Florida that attack Gingrich as a candidate with “a ton of baggage.”
Gingrich is being targeted by millions of dollars of negative ads. The campaign has eroded support for the former House speaker in the early voting state.
Gingrich said he plans to make more than 40 campaign stops in Iowa before the state starts the Republican nomination voting with its Jan. 3 caucuses. He said he would use the events and daily telephone conferences with Iowa voters to answer “any question” that comes up based on criticisms made by his rivals.
“I really wish they had the courage to be positive,” he said of his opponents. “I have faith in the people of Iowa that, over a two-week period, we will sort out who is being honest and who isn’t.”
Attacks by Republican opponents against Gingrich, which grew following his rise in polls, show signs of taking their toll.
A national poll released today by CNN showed a tie between Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, with each getting the backing of 28 percent of Republican voters. In CNN’s November poll, Gingrich led Romney 24 percent to 20 percent.
Gingrich’s campaign spent an estimated $130,500 on television advertisements — all in Iowa — through Dec. 18, according to data compiled by CMAG/Kantar Media, a New York- based company that tracks political spending.
That’s about one-ninth of the $1.16 million that Romney’s campaign and an independent political action committee supporting his campaign have spent on television ads.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who’s airing an ad attacking Gingrich and Romney on healthcare issues, and an independent committee supporting his candidacy have spent $2.69 million on television ads.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has spent $1.1 million on television ads, including about $36,000 on an ad in Iowa that accuses Gingrich of “serial hypocrisy.”
Asked by reporters about his drop in polls, Gingrich pointed to the spending.
“Watch TV here for two days,” he said. “You’ve had all sorts of people and all sorts of these super PACs who have been consistently running negative ads. Well, you get enough negative ads before you start answering them, your numbers go down for a while.”
His strategy of remaining positive will pay off at the Iowa caucuses, Gingrich said.
“They’re in effect doing Barack Obama’s work,” he said. “I think the average Republican is going to be very unhappy with candidates whose entire campaign is negative.”
Gingrich called for changes in federal campaign spending laws, including allowing individuals to give unlimited amounts, as long as it is disclosed on a daily basis. Republicans and Democrats are worried about his candidacy, he said.
“The establishment in both parties is panicking, just as they did with Ronald Reagan,” he said. “It will make many conservatives in Washington who are establishmentarians very uncomfortable to have their cozy world shaken as badly as the election of Newt Gingrich would shake it up.”
Responding to a voter question, Gingrich played down the amount of money he personally received from Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage company that paid his consulting business at least $1.6 million after he left Congress.
“I probably got about $35,000 a year,” he said. “That was less than I was making per speech.”
Gingrich’s primary contact inside the organization was Mitchell Delk, Freddie Mac’s chief lobbyist, and he was paid a monthly retainer of $25,000 to $30,000 between May 1999 until 2002, according to three people familiar with aspects of the business agreement.
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has been especially critical of Gingrich in recent days for taking money from the lender, which lost millions in the collapse of the housing market. He called such charges “fundamentally inaccurate,” while saying he could have done a better job in answering questions about the matter.
“I didn’t try to sit down, before running, and figure out every possible question somebody could ask me because it would be like Wikipedia,” he said, a reference to the encyclopedia-like website.
Gingrich took a veiled shot at Paul, who has called for reduced military spending, during his Davenport event.
“I stand apart from some of our candidates in believing that we need a strong defense,” he said.
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