Newt Gingrich test drives new aggressive strategy on first day in New Hampshire

Chris Moody

CONCORD, N.H. -- With only a few hours to sleep after landing in New Hampshire for the first day of primary-week campaigning here, Newt Gingrich hit the airwaves early Wednesday morning, knocking out three media interviews before breakfast. He and his campaign team flew in from Des Moines, taking refuge at a Fairfield Marriott after placing a distant fourth in the Iowa caucuses.

Sitting alone in the corner of the hotel lobby with his breakfast, Gingrich pulled out his cell phone for another interview, this time with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, and discussed the possibility of a joint Gingrich-Rick Santorum tag-team offensive against Mitt Romney.

"Can you see a scenario under which the two of you would align together to defeat the establishment candidate Mitt Romney?" Ingraham asked.

"Absolutely. Of course," Gingrich said, leaning back in his chair. "I mean Rick and I have a 20-year friendship, we are both rebels, we both came into this business as reformers, we both dislike deeply the degree to which the establishment sells out the American people. ... And the thing that's interesting is if you take the votes, you add to that Perry and Bachmann, you begin to see the size of the conservative vote compared to Romney."

Gingrich's New Hampshire swing marks the start of a new phase in his campaign, in which the former House Speaker has vowed to become increasingly vocal against the opponents he disagrees with most. He spent the past month getting beaten and bruised in Iowa by an onslaught of negative ads launched by Ron Paul and Romney.

It felt like a long time coming. Days before, Gingrich teased the media with promises that he would soon start swinging back.

"We may go to a much more clear contrast," Gingrich told reporters at a campaign stop in Iowa last week when asked how he planned to respond to the attacks. That expression-- a "clear contrast"-- is Gingrich's nice way of saying he's ready to brawl. But no personal attacks, he stipulates--issues only.

At his farewell speech the night of the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night, Gingrich set the timeline for his plan. "We are not going to go out and run nasty ads ... But I do deserve the right to go out and tell the truth," he said. "This is going to be a debate that begins tomorrow morning."

So there the usual gaggle of political reporters was the next morning, waiting for Gingrich to unleash the fury,  something we'd all been anticipating for the entire campaign. Finally, we would see Newt Gingrich employ one of his greatest talents: the political attack.

Packed into a tiny conference room at a Holiday Inn in Concord, we braced ourselves for the fireworks. Gingrich entered, and delivered what amounted to a fine lecture on the American founding. Informative? Sure, but something well shy of earth-shattering news.

But the patient reporters on the Gingrich beat wouldn't have to wait much longer. During a media availability immediately after the public event, Gingrich came through.  There, he unloaded on his opponents, giving Paul hell for the racist newsletters written under his name in the 1990s and essentially calling Romney an abortion-supporting tax hiker. It was textbook stuff.

Part of Gingrich's strategy in New Hampshire, as he displayed that morning, is to choose carefully when and where he rumbles. Gingrich said later that he thought the setting of the first event, which was advertised as an "Education Townhall Meeting" that drew many young supporters, wasn't an appropriate place to do his "contrasting." But with the media egging him on after, he let it all out.

And it's not just Gingrich who seems to be getting in on the action. After an afternoon stop in Laconia, where Gingrich called Romney "confused," his wife Callista, took what at least appeared to be a subtle jab at the former Massachusetts governor when a reporter asked if they would ever buy a second residence in New Hampshire as Romney has.

Newt shook his head and smiled. "I'm not rich," he said. Softly, Callista added, "We have one home."

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