The Washington Times - December 13, 2011, 10:59AM

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich urged his supporters Tuesday to avoid initiating attacks on the other Republican presidential candidates and called on his rivals to do the same.

In an email to supporters, Mr. Gingrich vowed that he would only counterpunch against the GOP candidates who took shots at him first, and he emphasized it is critical for the party’s eventual nominee to emerge “unbloodied” from the race so they are prepared to take on President Obama.

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“I have refrained from launching attacks on my Republican opponents, though I have reserved the right to respond when my record has been distorted,” Mr. Gingrich said in the note, which came a day after he exchanged rhetorical blows with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, his chief opponent in recent polls.

Mr. Gingrich said he and Mr. Romney engaged in a “frank exchange” over their records in the private sector. “That same day, however, Mr. Romney announced, ‘I’m not going to say outrageous things that can be used to hang [a GOP opponent] down the road.’ I agree wholeheartedly with this statement,” Mr. Gingrich said.

The back-and-forth between the candidates started after Mr. Romney used an early television appearance Monday to make the case that Mr. Gingrich should return the more than $1.6 million he earned working on behalf for Freddie Mac, the housing mortgage giant. Mr. Gingrich pushed back later in the day, saying that he would think about returning the money “if Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he’s earned bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years,” alluding to the time Mr. Romney spent at the helm of the private equity firm Bain Capital.

“But I bet you $10 — not $10,000 — that he won’t take the offer,” Mr. Gingrich said, taking a second shot at Mr. Romney over the wager he offered Texas Gov. Rick Perry at a debate Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa, which has since been used to portray the millionaire businessman as being out of touch with the average voter.

In his email to supporters Tuesday, Mr. Gingrich repeated his promise not to run any negative advertising and called on them not to contribute to any “so-called SuperPAC” that runs negative ads against a Republican contender — a demand that comes days after Restore Our Future, an independent political group supporting Mr. Romney, started running such spots against Mr. Gingrich in Iowa.

“I am instructing all members of my campaign staff and respectfully urge anyone acting as a surrogate for our campaign to avoid initiating attacks on other Republican candidates,” Mr. Gingrich said. “It is my hope that my Republican opponents will join me in this commitment.”

Mr. Gingrich’s record has come under increasing scrutiny from the media and the rest of the GOP field as he has risen in the polls.

That was evident in Saturday’s debate, during which Mr. Gingrich parried various attacks of his GOP rivals. They painted him as a Washington insider and criticized his support of the 2008 Wall Street bailout and his consulting work for Freddie Mac, as well as his prior support for an individual mandate for health insurance and some sort of cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gases.