Time ticks down for candidates in Iowa
Gingrich, Romney escalate war of words
DES MOINES, Iowa (CNN) — As Iowans prepared to head to 809 caucus sites around the state Tuesday night, Newt Gingrich escalated his war of words with Mitt Romney, saying the former Massachusetts governor was less than honest by claiming he has no link to a political action committee that has produced anti-Gingrich TV ads.
Asked by CBS if he would call Mitt Romney a liar, Gingrich answered flatly, “Yes.”
Gingrich said Romney needs to be honest with voters about his record.
“I think he ought to be honest with the American people and try to win as the real Mitt Romney and not a consultant-guided version that goes with talking points. I don’t think he’s being candid and that will be a major issue,” Gingrich said.
Romney holds a small lead over Texas Rep. Ron Paul in most polls going into Tuesday night’s caucuses, the first contest in the 2012 Republican nominating process.
Gingrich, who surged to the top of polls in November after a string of strong debate performances, came under withering fire from ads paid for by super PACs that support Romney, and subsequently crashed back into the pack.
Paul’s campaign also went on the attack against the front-runner, launching a one-minute radio spot calling the former Massachusetts governor a “liberal” who has supported government bailouts, health care mandates and big government.
The ad was running in Iowa Tuesday morning and afternoon.
The announcer reads, “Mitt Romney can’t fight against Obama-care because he supported the same mandates and government takeovers as governor of Massachusetts. Romney can’t stand up against more bailouts because he supported them. He can’t lead the charge to shrink the government because he has grown it.”
The caucuses, the first contest in the primary and caucus calendar, most likely will not determine the eventual nominee, but they will shape the race for the White House and will be closely watched by the national press corps and Republicans nationwide.
Romney, making his second bid for the nomination, gave his standard stump speech Tuesday morning to a small crowd in Des Moines. He told CNN’s Candy Crowley that he expected to do well Tuesday night and defined that as finishing in the “top three.”
Crowley noted that the rally had all the trappings of a presidential campaign, with Romney trying to keep his distance from his Republican rivals.
Romney didn’t take questions from reporters. He ignored reporter’s repeated requests for reaction to Gingrich calling him a liar.
After speaking confidently Monday of his chances to win his party’s nomination, he used the rally Tuesday to go after President Barack Obama.
“He went on the ‘Today’ show shortly after being inaugurated and said that if he’s not able to turn around the economy in three years, he’d be looking at a one-term proposition,” Romney said of Obama. “I’m here to collect. He’s out.”
On Monday, he predicted the president and Democrats would “poison the very spirit of America and keep us from being one nation under God.”
“I’ve watched a president who’s become the great divider, the great complainer, the great excuse-giver, the great blamer,” Romney said. “I want to have an America that comes together. I’m an optimist. I believe in the future of America. I’m not a pessimist.”
Obama, who’s not expected to face a major challenge for the Democratic nomination, will take a few questions from caucus-goers in his interactive video-teleconference to Democratic caucus sites Tuesday night, a senior Obama campaign official said.
A Des Moines Register poll released Saturday showed Romney with 24% support among Iowa caucus-goers, with Texas Rep. Ron Paul close behind at 22%.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, the latest to rise in a campaign that has seen several candidates enjoy bursts of support in polls, had 15%, with Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and recent brief front-runner, at 12%. Texas Gov. Rick Perry was at 11% and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota was at 7%.
Gingrich sounded more positive about his chances on Tuesday, a day after telling reporters he did not expect to win the Iowa caucus.
“I think we could win,” Gingrich said on CNN’s “Starting Point.” “Four of us are in a position to win this come late tonight.”
On Monday, Gingrich said he didn’t think he would win, blaming his recent slide in national and statewide polls on the negative ads from a super PAC that supports Romney’s candidacy.
“I think that volume of negativity has done enough damage,” Gingrich told reporters in Independence on Monday. “Whatever I do tomorrow night will be a victory because I’m still standing.”
Although he focused his jabs on Romney and contrasted their positions, he also dismissed rival Ron Paul during an editorial board meeting with the Iowa Gazette Monday.
He said the Republican Party would not nominate the three-time presidential candidate, citing his stances on Israel and Iran’s nuclear program, his support for legalizing some drugs, and the controversial newsletters that were published under his name more than a decade ago.
“If I was going to take on wrong Ron Paul I would take him on — he writes about my being a serial hypocrite and he can’t remember the newsletters he apparently made money from for 10 years,” Gingrich said. “I don’t think about Ron Paul.”
The lesser-known Santorum’s campaign reported that his surge in the polls was fueling a 300% to 400% increase in fundraising on a daily basis over the past 10 days — collecting more money over the past month than it has raised in the past six months, according to a senior Santorum adviser.
Santorum said his strong background as a social conservative better positions him for a win in 2012 rather than a more moderate candidate.
“I would suggest that if you look at the history of Republican nominees … moderate candidates who are there to appeal to more moderates ended up losing,” Santorum said in an event in Polk City.
In yet another sign Santorum is rising among rivals, Rick Perry continued to pile on the former Pennsylvania senator.
The Texas governor, whose standing in polls declined after a series of lackluster debate performances, pointed to weak points in Santorum’s history, including his double-digit loss to recapture his Pennsylvania Senate seat in 2006, poor national organization and past support of Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who later switched parties to become a Democrat.
“His … argument is ‘I’m the guy that can win,'” Perry said of Santorum Monday on MSNBC. “He got beat by 18 points in his last race. I mean this guy has proven that he can’t win races when it matters against a liberal Democrat.”
Michele Bachmann, who released her final ad in Iowa Monday, made similar comments during a campaign stop in West Des Moines, while also criticizing earmarks Santorum supported while serving in Congress.
During an appearance Tuesday on CNN, she said she expects to “do just fine” in Iowa, but is focusing on South Carolina’s upcoming primary.
Third-time presidential candidate Paul also piled on Santorum. While campaigning Monday with his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, he drew sharp contrasts between his limited government philosophy and Santorum’s history.
During an interview with CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash, Paul called Santorum “very liberal,” a theme he continued throughout his day of campaign events.
“I mean, have you looked at his record? Go look at his record,” Paul said. “He spends too much money. He wasn’t leading the charge to slash the budgets and vote against big government.”