- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2011

With his poll numbers showing some softness after days of mudslinging with rival Republican candidates, Newt Gingrich vowed to Iowa voters Thursday to run a positive campaign in the three-week stretch run to the state’s Jan. 3 first-in-the-nation contest — the same strategy that helped former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee win the state in 2008.

Gathered in Sioux City for the final scheduled debate of the year, all of the GOP candidates were searching for the pitch-perfect appeal to Iowa’s famously particular caucusgoers, who have a tendency to reward candidates with whom they relate and whom they see keeping relatively clean hands in the dirty business of campaigning.

That plays out most prominently on television, where attack ads proliferate — and where the former House speaker proclaimed his pledge to take a positive approach.

“Others seem to be more focused on attacks rather than moving the country forward. That’s up to them,” Mr. Gingrich says in the new ad. “I believe bold ideas and new solutions will unleash America’s creative spirit. When I was speaker, our budget was balanced and 11 million jobs were created. We can do it again and rebuild the America we love.”

The Georgia Republican also has instructed his staff not to initiate attacks against his GOP opponents, though he said he retains the right to counter attacks leveled against him.

Hours after Mr. Gingrich’s ad, his chief rival in the polls, Mitt Romney, took the same tack, unveiling an ad that doesn’t mention his opponents at all but focuses instead on solving the budget deficit.

“We can’t keep buying and spending and passing on debts to our kids. And I’ll stop it,” the former Massachusetts governor says in the spot.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania also announced his own positive ad Thursday, titled “Sing, Sing, Sing,” which tells Iowans he is “a loving husband, a devoted father, home-schooler and a man of deep faith.”

Iowa GOP caucusgoers — who at little more than 100,000 are a small fraction of the state’s population — take pride in being the first in the nation to vote, and they have a reputation for rewarding those they see as understanding their way of life in a largely rural, farm economy state.

“I do think there’s something to the notion of ‘Iowa nice,’ ” said David Yepsen, who spent three decades observing Iowa politics for the Des Moines Register. “When it comes to electing presidential candidates, people may like the populist or the tub-thumper, but when it comes to picking presidents, I don’t think angry wins.”

Attacks may have helped Mr. Romney close the gap, however. After some of his harshest jabs of the campaign, the latest Rasmussen Reports poll in Iowa showed Mr. Romney with a 3 percentage point lead over Mr. Gingrich. Just a month ago, Mr. Gingrich held a 13 percentage point lead.

If he does slide, Mr. Gingrich would be the latest candidate in the GOP race to peak too soon, following Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who held the lead in the summer; Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who topped the polls in the early fall; and Herman Cain, whose October lead evaporated amid allegations of sexual harassment. Mr. Cain has since left the race.

Pledging to stay positive leaves Mr. Gingrich squarely in the shoes of Mr. Huckabee, the folksy Southern former governor who won here in 2008 in part by making the same vow.

Like Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Huckabee was trying to hold off Mr. Romney that year.

In the waning days of that campaign, Mr. Huckabee went so far as to cut an attack ad blasting Mr. Romney — but in a dramatic news conference on New Year’s Eve he said he decided that morning to shelve the ad, which he had spent $30,000 to produce and taken time off from the campaign trail to tape.

Mr. Huckabee still showed the ad, titled “Enough is enough,” to a room full of dozens of reporters and camera crews, saying he had to prove he made it.

He described his plan to stay positive as a “gamble,” but a top adviser at the time told reporters going negative might have been an even tougher bet because Mr. Huckabee had won support from so many Iowans who said they liked his upbeat, positive campaign style.

Mr. Yepsen, who is now director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said Mr. Huckabee appealed to state voters because he was able to deliver a populist appeal while also hitting softer notes.

Mr. Yepsen said Mr. Gingrich also brings a positive message of searching for solutions to problems, which he said resonates with voters here. But he said Mr. Gingrich may not be able to help himself when a fat target for attack presents itself.

“He’s such a quick wit, he almost can’t help himself from skewering someone,” Mr. Yepsen said.

Having seen his lead in the polls evaporate earlier this fall, Mr. Perry is going the opposite direction. His campaign announced an ad, to run nationally on cable and in Iowa on broadcast stations, that attacks Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Romney, derisively calling them “insiders.” The ad says Mr. Gingrich oversaw a spike in federal spending during his time as House speaker, and says Mr. Romney raised business taxes during his time as governor.



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