Facing attacks, Gingrich prepares to shift strategy

Chris Moody

ATLANTIC, Iowa -- Facing a barrage of attack ads in the run-up to Tuesday's Iowa caucuses, Newt Gingrich said Saturday that his campaign plans to shift its messaging strategy by increasing its focus on his competitors' records.

"We may go to a much more clear contrast," Gingrich told reporters here, suggesting that he would begin a stronger offensive against the other Republican presidential candidates. "But we're not going to respond in kind. Those ads are dishonest and [Mitt Romney] knows it. They are factually false and he knows it."

This month alone, more than $8 million has been spent on advertisements in the state by the campaigns and outside groups operating under looser regulations on political speech. Iowans have been flooded with negative ads targeting Gingrich. Support for Gingrich in Iowa has dropped by half in the past few weeks, according to several polls. Not long ago, he was riding on the top; now he has sunk to the middle-tier, below long-shot candidate Rick Santorum.

In the final days before the caucuses, Gingrich crossed the state touting an experimental strategy that shies away from traditional negative campaigning.

"I can't do modern politics," Gingrich said Friday at a Rotary Club breakfast meeting in Des Moines, explaining why it took so long for his campaign to get off the ground when he first announced his candidacy.

Still, Gingrich doesn't shy away from taking shots at the policy positions of other candidates. He contends that it's okay to "contrast" his position with others, a strategy he finds "perfectly legitimate," even if it involves calling President Obama "the greatest food-stamp president in history," a "fact" that falls within the bounds of his self-imposed rules.

"There's an interpretation in the press that if I don't want to run a negative campaign, I have to be a goody-two-shoes and I'm not allowed to talk about anybody or I'll be breaking my commitment to be positive," Gingrich said Saturday in Council Bluffs, a town in western Iowa that looks across the Missouri River toward Omaha, Nebraska. "Contrast is totally legitimate. It's fair that you know who does what and how they did it."

Out on the trail, Positive Newt is just one of many Newt incarnations. There's also Lack-of-Self-Awareness Newt: "I don't think the elites in this country have a clue. They're arrogant. They lecture us." Boastful Newt: "Almost everyone seems to think I'm a more effective debater than Mitt Romney." Contemplative Newt: "I am a sadder and slower person than I was 20 years ago. . . .I've learned a lot of limitations of life." And most recently, Human Newt.

The one side of him that has faded in recent days is Overconfident Newt. Just a few weeks ago, Gingrich predicted that he would be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, but that's not something you hear him say anymore.

"I think I'll survive," Gingrich told ABC News on Friday.

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