Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Newt Gingrich, expressing confidence that he will be the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, said he is unsettled by the rapid rise of his campaign in recent weeks and doesn’t intend to answer criticism from his rivals.
“I have to confess, this is disorienting,” he told reporters after a dinner speech yesterday in Johnston, Iowa. “This is such a rapid change that we are having to rethink our own internal operations right now.”
Seeking to emerge as the main challenger to Mitt Romney in the Republican race, Gingrich argued that he would offer the clearest conservative alternative to President Barack Obama. He drew an implicit contrast with Romney, whom he didn’t mention by name in any of three Iowa speeches.
“I’m not interested in distinguishing myself from Romney,” he said. “I’m happy to be who I am. I think that distinguishes me from Romney.” Gingrich, 68, said he intends to stay focused on Obama rather than his primary challengers.
As he campaigned ahead of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, which will start the Republican nomination contests, Gingrich said a general election between him and Obama would offer voters the “widest choice in American history.”
He made his case as the campaign pace in Iowa quickened with a flurry of new television ads yesterday from two other candidates.
Romney, who has visited the state infrequently, started his television advertising in Iowa with a spot promoting his credentials as a “conservative businessman.” Texas Governor Rick Perry, seeking to revive a struggling candidacy, was to air an ad aimed at the state’s social conservatives in which he discusses his Christian faith.
Gingrich expressed confidence about his chances of winning the nomination in an ABC News interview yesterday.
“I’m going to be the nominee,” he said. “It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.”
Gingrich was more humble as he left a hotel ballroom in West Des Moines after addressing about 500 members of the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives.
“I think probably, yes,” he told Bloomberg News when asked whether he indeed thought he would be the nominee. “Hope so.”
Speaking earlier to a standing-room-only audience of about 400 employees at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. in Des Moines, Gingrich said he would bring dramatic change to Washington.
“We need a serious, in-depth conversation about the mess we’re in, which is far beyond President Obama,” Gingrich said. “This mess has been growing for 30 years. He is only a symptom of it.”
Gingrich also reiterated his suggestion that low-income children get paid to clean and perform other tasks at schools -- a proposal critics say would violate child labor laws -- as a way to break a cycle of poverty.
“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” he said. “They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of, ‘I do this, and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal.”
Gingrich will need a strong showing in Iowa to establish himself as Romney’s prime challenger. The two are the leaders in recent national polls of Republican voters.
Gingrich’s history as a former U.S. House speaker who has earned millions of dollars as a Washington insider after leaving Congress, doesn’t appear to have hurt him in Iowa, state Republican leaders say.
“I think he has some momentum here,” said Steve Scheffler, a Republican National Committee member from Iowa who plans to remain neutral in the race. “Whether they have enough time for a turnout effort, I don’t know.”
Gingrich’s rise has triggered attacks from rivals. Romney aides made a point before Gingrich’s visit of publicizing the start of their television campaign in the state and promoting New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s appearance in Iowa next week as a surrogate.
Representative Ron Paul of Texas, another strong contender in Iowa, unveiled a web video earlier this week critical of Gingrich that alleges “serial hypocrisy” by him.
Scheffler, who also leads the socially conservative Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, said it remains “anyone’s guess who will win the caucuses.” He said he has seen no evidence that social conservatives are coalescing around one alternative to Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.
Gingrich lacks the campaign infrastructure that traditionally has been required to win the caucuses. His three appearances yesterday were all at gatherings with built-in audiences that didn’t require much organizing in advance.
His campaign this week opened its first office in Iowa -- the last major candidate to do so -- and may add staff members in the coming days. In mid-November, Gingrich added two senior advisers in Iowa, individuals who had left his campaign in June when more than a dozen staff members, including his national co- chairman and campaign manager, resigned following discord over strategy.
“I was, supposedly, in June and July, dead,” Gingrich said. “So, it’s great to be back. And I have to confess that while I was hoping wave, we’ve had sort of a tsunami.”
Will Rogers, Gingrich’s former Iowa political director, said the campaign could overcome its infrastructure deficit because of time Gingrich has spent in the state in previous years and contacts with thousands of Republicans through his stable of companies and nonprofit organizations.
“He’s spent a lot of time helping a lot of Republicans over the past decade here in Iowa, helping them get elected and advance conservative causes,” said Rogers, who left the campaign in May.
After his speech at the insurance company, Gingrich signed a pledge promoted by a group called Americans for Securing the Border calling for construction of a double fence along the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of 2013.
Gingrich’s Iowa visit is his first since a Nov. 22 debate in which he said he supports allowing some illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. years ago and have raised families and pay taxes to legally remain in the country, a stance that could prove unpopular among some Iowa Republicans.
Romney and Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, another presidential contender, accused Gingrich of favoring a form of amnesty that they have suggested would create a magnet for more illegal immigrants. Romney has also started to paint Gingrich as a Washington insider.
Scheffler said he doesn’t think the immigration issue will hurt Gingrich that much.
“A lot of us don’t totally agree with Newt’s stand, but when he explains it from beginning to end, I think a lot of people can say that they could live with it,” he said.
--Editors: Jim Rubin, John Brinsley
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