The Washington Times - December 27, 2011, 04:03PM

Seeking to regain his footing, New Gingrich on Tuesday challenged former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to a one-on-one debate some time over the next week before Iowa voters go to the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

“Face-to-face,” Mr. Gingrich said in Dubuque as he kicked off his stretch-run to the Jan. 3 caucuses.

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The former House speaker has seen his standing in the polls crumble here in Iowa in the face of withering attacks from Mr. Romney, and Mr. Gingrich has struggled to fight back.

“I don’t want to be invidious about Gov. Romney who, as I said, I think is a very competent manager and a very smart man. But to have somebody who is a Massachusetts moderate, who said he did not want to go back to the Reagan-Bush years, who voted as a Democrat for Paul Tsongas in ‘92, who campaigned to the left of Teddy Kennedy, who as recently as running for governor said: I’m really sort of a moderate, pragmatic guy — to have him run a commercial that questions my conservatism?” Mr. Gingrich said.

Mr. Romney has already turned down one such earlier invitation and is unlikely to accept this one, especially since Mr. Gingrich appears to be fading as a challenger here.

The former governor begins his own campaign run to the caucuses Tuesday evening in Davenport, south of Dubuque, but he spent the morning saying goodbye to the friendly confines of New Hampshire, where he has consistently led the field.

Throughout the campaign Mr. Romney has at times ignored the field to focus on President Obama, while at other times he has directly engaged with a particular rival when he felt his standing was endangered — most notably in the case of Mr. Gingrich.

With Mr. Gingrich’s support cratering, Mr. Romney on Tuesday was focused squarely on Mr. Obama and on the path to next summer’s nominating convention in Tampa, Fla.

“I’m not exactly sure how all this is going to work, but I think I’m going to get the nomination if we do our job right,” he said in Londonderry, N.H.