Borrowing a page from Mitt Romney's playbook, Newt Gingrich deployed a couple of his surrogates Friday to criticize the former Massachusetts governor's attempts to "tear down" the former House speaker and question his ability to lead the nation.
State Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, the campaign's Iowa chairwoman, and former Iowa Rep. Greg Ganske, finance co-chairman, told reporters in a conference call that the television attack ad that Romney allies started against Mr. Gingrich, which reportedly is part of a $3 million ad buy, and the recent criticisms from some of his big-name GOP campaign supporters are insulting to any caucus goer and sign of unbridled panic from the Republican's campaign.
"Now when Mitt Romney and his minions are going totally negative, I would have to say, 'Where has Mitt Been in Iowa?' He was basically going to blow this state off until the speaker rose in the polls," Mr. Ganske said, before likening the attacks to those of Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "It now looks to me that Mitt Romney is now in the Pelosi-Harkin camp."
The critique served as a counterpunch to a conference call that the Romney camp held on Thursday, where a couple of his troops — former Sen. Jim Talent, of Missouri, and former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu — warned that Mr. Gingrich's erratic leadership style and lack of discipline has hurt the conservative agenda, while pointing to his characterization of Rep. Paul Ryan proposed Medicare overhaul as "right-wing social engineering" as proof that he's not a reliable person to lead the party.
"For Newt Gingrich, in an effort of self-aggrandizement, to come out and throw a clever phrase that has no other purpose than to make him sound a little smarter than the conservative Republican leadership, to undercut Paul Ryan, is the most self-serving, anti-conservative thing one can imagine happening," Mr. Sununu said.
Mr. Ganske pushed back on Friday, saying that he read news reports where Mr. Romney claimed he couldn't control Mr. Sununu's remarks, which the ex-Iowa congressman described as "caustic." "My question of Iowans would be well, 'If he can't control his subordinates in his campaign, what does that say about his ability to be president and control his subordinates if he would get to The White House.' "
On Friday, the Romney campaign also continued to drive home that message in a new Web ad, which makes the case that when conservatives have "friends like Newt," there is no need for attacks from the political left because the former House speaker will do it for them. The minute-long "With Friends Like Newt" spot contrasts the praise that House leaders showered on Mr. Ryan's plan to transform Medicare into voucher-like program against Mr. Gingrich's suggestion that it was somehow similar to the president's health care overhaul and "too big a jump."
It also highlights an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that said Mr. Gingrich "chose to throw his former allies in the GOP House not so much under the bus as off the Grand Canyon rim."
The Romney camp also held another conference call with former Ambassador Mary Kramer and Iowa State Rep. Renee Schulte, who complimented Mr. Romney's family values, which some may see a thinly veiled swipe at Mr. Gingrich's turbulent marriages in the past.
"He has lived a life of integrity, and it is such a pleasure to see him interact with his family. He will never get off the rails in a such a way that he would embarrass us," Ms. Kramer said, adding later that it was not a swipe at the thrice-married Mr. Gingrich.
The surrogate wars come as the two men prepare to face off in the first debate of the campaign season that will not feature Herman Cain, the former pizza baron who suspended his unorthodox campaign last week in the face of old — and new — allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior as well as an alleged 13-year extramarital affair. The debate also comes after polls that show Mr. Gingrich has opened up solid leads nationwide and in three of the four states that kick off the nomination process, including Iowa.
Democrats also chimed in on the race Friday, casting Mr. Romney as a flip-flopper and arguing that he's trying to buy a victory in Iowa with a late-innings campaign push with less than a month before the caucuses, which start the nomination marathon.
"The Romney campaign has raised expectations for caucus night; anything short of a win will be a major blow," said Democrat Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky.
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