Newt Gingrich takes aim at Mitt Romney -- and Massachusetts

MANCHESTER, N.H.—Newt Gingrich has promised to run a positive presidential campaign. That, apparently, does not extend to comments about certain states.

“We’re thinking of having a Massachusetts rally at some point in New Hampshire, sort of a please don’t turn America into Massachusetts,” the former House speaker told around 125 people at the Radisson Hotel.

Gingrich explained to reporters later that Massachusetts, the home state of archrival Mitt Romney, is “a very expensive state with a very liberal political culture.”

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Romney has spoken about his time as governor on the campaign trail, but mostly to show that he knows how to compromise, after leading a Democratic-leaning state.

Gingrich also implied that Romney himself was liberal, noting that the Des Moines Register in Iowa endorsed Romney, while the Union Leader in New Hampshire chose Gingrich. “The grand irony last week was the Des Moines Register, which is a liberal newspaper, endorsed the right person for the liberal newspaper, and the Union Leader, which is a conservative newspaper, endorsed the right person for the conservatives,” Gingrich said.

As Gingrich and Romney are locked in a battle for the nomination, the two front-runners have established an ongoing attack-and-respond pattern. Romney today accused Gingrich of changing his story on consulting fees he accepted from Freddie Mac. Gingrich told MSNBC that he pocketed about $35,000 a year for his work for the federal mortgage company. The rest of his company’s $1.6 million went to staff salaries and overhead. “With Speaker Gingrich’s latest claim – that he only got one-eighth of the money he earned from Freddie Mac – he has added another chapter to an ever-changing story,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul e-mailed reporters.

The pro-Romney Restore our Future PAC released an ad yesterday in Iowa hitting Gingrich for his “baggage,” including the Freddie Mac fees, his changing stance on climate change, and his reprimand for violating House ethics rules. The Associated Press reports that the super PAC supporting Romney will spend $2.8 million on attack ads this month.

Gingrich, speaking to reporters, called on Romney to “disown” the PAC, though by law the group is independent from the campaign. “For him to stand to one side and say ‘Oh gosh, I don’t have any influence over my former staff and I don’t have any influence over my millionaire friends who wrote the big checks,’ it’s just not honest,” Gingrich said.

“These are his ads,” Gingrich added. “They’re dishonest, they’re destructive, and the only person they’re helping is (Democratic President) Barack Obama.”

Romney jumped on Gingrich this morning on NBC for complaining. “If you can’t handle the heat in this little kitchen, the heat that’s going to come from Obama’s Hell’s kitchen is going to be a heck of a lot hotter,” Romney said.

Gingrich responded by challenging Romney to a one-on-one debate next week in Iowa. “Ask Governor Romney would he like to come and play in the kitchen?” Gingrich said. “I don’t think he wants to do anything but hide over here and pretend it’s not his fault that he’s flooding the people of Iowa with falsehoods.”

Gingrich also weighed in on the payroll tax dispute in Washington, in which House Republicans have refused to pass a two-month extension of Obama’s payroll tax cut. House Speaker John Boehner said Republicans want a year-long extension. Gingrich sided with Boehner.

“The idea that you get a two-month extension, then you don’t know what will happen next, so you have another crisis in late February, this is about as stupid a way to run a country. It’s embarrassing. It’s worthy of the Italian Parliament,” Gingrich said.

He said the fault lies with Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate, which has left for its holiday break. “Arrogantly, they pass a bill and leave the city,” Gingrich said. “They ought to be told, ‘go back to Washington and pass a year-long bill.’”

Gingrich rejected the idea that House Republicans are to blame. “This is a Barack Obama, (Senate President) Harry Reid deliberately deceptive strategy for purely political gain,” he said.

The comments came at an event highlighting Gingrich’s endorsements from House speakers in the two earliest voting states – Iowa Speaker Kraig Paulsen and New Hampshire Speaker William O’Brien.

Gingrich held a morning rally at the Iowa state capitol, then flew to New Hampshire for a town hall meeting with O’Brien. He is scheduled to hold an evening rally in Virginia.

O’Brien, an attorney from Mont Vernon, was elected speaker in 2010. A fiscal and social conservative, he rose to power with support from Tea Party and libertarian-leaning Republican groups. He led efforts to strip unions of bargaining power, slash state spending, and expand the state’s death penalty statute in response to a brutal murder in his hometown.

Even on the endorsement front, Romney tried to up Gingrich by announcing the support of one former Iowa House speaker—Brent Siegrist (1998 to 2002) – and two former New Hampshire House speakers—Harold Burns (1991 to 1996) and George Roberts (1975 to 1980). The Romney campaign pointed out that the former Massachusetts governor now has support from two former Iowa House speakers and five former New Hampshire House speakers.