- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2012

COLUMBIA, S.C. — With polls showing Newt Gingrich gaining ground on Mitt Romney, his campaign Wednesday accused the former House speaker of being too “chaotic” to lead the Republican Party or the country.

Mr. Gingrich, meanwhile, warned supporters that he expects the former Massachusetts governor to be “unendingly dirty and dishonest” in the run-up to Saturday’s primary here.

Mr. Romney is trying to win his third consecutive state and once again head off his more conservative challengers, which some of those candidates said would essentially mean the end of the nomination battle.

In another sign that the general-election fight could be coming sooner rather than later, President Obama’s campaign told the Associated Press that it was already purchasing advertising time in six states expected to be critical to his re-election effort.

The White House also announced plans to visit five key states in the wake of next week’s State of the Union address.

Mr. Romney didn’t get involved himself in the attacks on Mr. Gingrich, but instead kept to his standard speech. But his campaign organized a conference call with two surrogates early in the day to fire another salvo at Mr. Gingrich, who is fresh from a compelling debate performance Monday.

In a devastating critique of his time as speaker, former Rep. Susan Molinari, a New York Republican who was on the House leadership team with him in the 1990s, said Mr. Gingrich’s insistence on being the focus of the political debate led to President Clinton’s re-election in 1996 and Democrats’ gain of House seats in 1998.

“When Newt is in the room, Newt becomes the focus,” she said. “The issue has to be President Obama’s performance in office and the steady hand of the candidate running against him.”

Former Sen. Jim Talent, a Missouri Republican who also served in the House under Mr. Gingrich, recalled that after the 1994 election, when Republicans were planning welfare reform, Mr. Gingrich publicly tied that effort to orphanages with his famous “Boys Town” comments.

“I had to spend two months at the end of 1994, again before we were even being sworn in, putting that to bed because the welfare bill had nothing to do with orphanages,” he said. “He almost killed that bill before it was even born.”

Mr. Gingrich had scheduled a late-morning news conference in Columbia to talk with reporters, but canceled it. Instead, his campaign issued a statement pointing to some current and former members of Congress who have endorsed him, saying that shows he can be a leader.

On the campaign circuit in the afternoon, though, he told a crowd of supporters to be ready for more attacks.

“I fully expect the Romney campaign to be unendingly dirty and dishonest the next four days,” he told a crowd spilling out onto the front porch of Bobby’s Bar-B-Q in Warrenville, near the Georgia border.

Contrasting with Mr. Romney’s surrogates’ charges, he said when Republicans held the House in 1996 it was the first time the GOP had successfully defended a House majority since 1928.

Mr. Gingrich said he thinks Mr. Romney has internal polling showing him poised to lose in South Carolina on Saturday, and the latest public polls showed strong movement toward Mr. Gingrich.

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