Iowa caucuses: Can 'relentlessly positive' Gingrich rebound with negativity?

Pummeled by his Iowa caucuses rivals' attack ads, Newt Gingrich tries some negativity of his own, calling Mitt Romney a liar and a 'Massachusetts moderate' pretending to be conservative.

By , Staff Writer

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    Republican presidential candidate former Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a stop at his campaign headquarters in Davenport, Iowa, Monday.
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As Iowans prepare to head to the caucuses, things are getting ugly between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

Forget Mr. Gingrich's promises to keep his campaign "relentlessly positive." After being pummeled in Iowa by attack ads from multiple candidates – and watching his poll numbers dive as a result – Gingrich is launching some attacks of his own.

For starters, calling Mr. Romney a liar.

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In recent days, the former House speaker has criticized Romney for not taking responsibility for the actions of the super PAC, Restore Our Future, which backs Romney and has spent millions on ads attacking Gingrich. "Someone who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president," Gingrich said in Iowa on Monday.

On CBS's "The Early Show" Tuesday, Norah O'Donnell asked Gingrich to clarify those comments: "I have to ask you, are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?"

Gingrich said yes, and then added, "This is a man whose staff created the PAC, his millionaire friends fund the PAC, he pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC – it's baloney. He's not telling the American people the truth.

"It's just like this pretense that he's a conservative. Here's a Massachusetts moderate who has tax-paid abortions in 'Romneycare,' puts Planned Parenthood in 'Romneycare,' raises hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes on businesses, appoints liberal judges to appease Democrats, and wants the rest of us to believe somehow he's magically a conservative."

Later Tuesday, Gingrich told Fox News: "Romney fails to tell the truth on three levels. He won't tell the truth about his own record; he is a Massachusetts moderate, not a conservative; he has failed to – refused to – tell the truth about his super PAC, which is run by his staff and funded by his millionaire friends. And his super PAC runs ads that are just plain lies."

Romney, who is currently far ahead of Gingrich in Iowa polls after trailing him last month, responded with a shrug.

"I understand Newt must be very angry, and I don't exactly understand why," he told Fox News. "I know that it's always tempting to look for someone else to blame, but at some point, you've got to stop and say, OK, what things can I do better?"

Romney added that his hands are tied when it comes to the PAC. "The super PAC that happens to endorse me has put some ads out – I can't control those. We're not allowed to have a coordination between a campaign and these independent PACs," Romney said.  "I'm sure they may have had an effect, but you know, the speaker's had just as much difficulty in the polls in New Hampshire as he has in Iowa, and I don't think there are any negative ads going on there."

Gingrich, who is currently averaging below 14 percent in Iowa in polls, behind Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum, has hedged in recent days when it comes to managing his own expectations for the caucuses. On Monday, he told reporters "I don't think I'm going to win," blaming the "volume of negativity" from his opponents.

But on Tuesday, he tried to take a more upbeat tone, saying that "everywhere we go there are a large number of undecided people.... Anybody could come in first."

Gingrich also said that – despite his feelings about Romney's honesty – he will support Romney if he is the nominee, saying "he will be much less destructive than Barack Obama."

(Not that he'll support any Republican nominee: Gingrich has made clear that Mr. Paul won't have his support even if he gets the GOP nomination.)

Gingrich may not have the money to start launching attack ads of his own, but his recent comments seem to make clear the direction he's headed: No more Mr. Nice Newt.

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