Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- The higher Newt Gingrich’s presidential candidacy rises, the more vocal and numerous his Republican critics become.
“I’m not sure he’s as conservative as some people think he is,” said U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican. While adding that Gingrich “is conservative,” Boehner ducked a question at a Washington forum yesterday about whether his former House colleague would make a good president.
Former Senator Alan Simpson took a shot at Gingrich in a Dec. 13 interview with Bloomberg News. “He is for himself before he is for anybody,” the Wyoming Republican said Gingrich, a former House speaker.
Simpson recounted how Gingrich, then House Minority Whip, broke ranks at the last minute with his party’s leadership to oppose the 1990 budget agreement between Republican President George H.W. Bush and a Democratic-controlled Congress. “It was the most hurtful and duplicitous thing I have ever seen,” Simpson said.
The intra-party debate over Gingrich has intensified as campaign ads attacking him have begun to flood Iowa markets including Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.
In the past several days, allies of rival Mitt Romney have spent $164,500 on an ad attacking Gingrich’s conservative credentials on issues such as ethical values to health care, according to data collected by CMAG/Kantar Media, a New York- based company that tracks political advertising.
‘Ton of Baggage’
Gingrich has “a ton of baggage,” the commercial sponsored by Romney’s allies intones, citing a $300,000 payment imposed on him by the House after an ethics investigation and money he has received from health-care industry groups.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal national poll released Dec. 13 showing Gingrich leading the race with 40 percent support among likely Republican voters compared with 23 percent for Romney offered evidence of the divisions within the party.
Half of all Republican voters surveyed said they won’t vote for Gingrich in the general election, and he trailed President Barack Obama by 11 points in a hypothetical contest.
Gingrich’s perceived weakness in a general election match- up is the catalyst for criticism of his candidacy. Among the concerns raised by his detractors is his history of delivering off-the-cuff remarks that make headlines while creating political headaches for other Republicans. He’s also embraced policies, such as a form of an individual mandate to purchase health insurance, that some Republicans say could be exploited by Democrats.
Meanwhile, his extramarital affair with his current wife, Callista, could suppress support from such core party activists as evangelical Christians.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said while evangelical voters are gravitating toward Gingrich’s candidacy, he remains the “most flawed” for the party’s social conservative base because of his two divorces and the acknowledgement of an affair.
“In normal times, Newt Gingrich would not have a prayer,” Land said in an interview. “The fact that he does shows the extent to which people are very concerned about the survival of the United States they know.”
Gingrich, 68, was asked by one man in an audience at the University of Iowa yesterday about the money he made on book publishing. Then the questioner accused the candidate of earning a “Ph.D. on cheating on your wife.”
“How would you know anything about how I published and sold books?” Gingrich responded. “The fact that I happened to write books people like may bother you, but it doesn’t mean that the books were wrong.”
Taking questions from reporters, Gingrich said his standing as a general election candidate would improve should he win the nomination contest.
Citing the 1980 race between President Jimmy Carter and Republican nominee Ronald Reagan, Gingrich said, “Reagan does not catch up with Carter until September 1980.”
“I kind of like about where we are now,” said Gingrich. “I’d like to have a few more votes, a little bit of a bigger margin.”
Gingrich’s feisty spirit -- and the criticism from some well-known party figures -- is appealing to some voters who see a candidate who isn’t controlled by political insiders and is willing to challenge Obama in debates and on the campaign trail.
Campaigning in Iowa City yesterday, Gingrich was interrupted by protesters as he was about to speak to a standing-room-only audience of more than 300 in a university lecture hall.
“I’m going to go ahead and try to talk over them,” Gingrich said, after standing silently at the front of the auditorium for about three minutes amid chants of protest against him. “I’m not going to be drowned out by the 1 percent who try to impose their will by making noise.”
At a focus group of Iowa evangelical Christians convened last week by Bloomberg News, most participants -- six out of nine -- didn’t support Gingrich. Of those who did, they cited his electability in a general election as a top reason.
“There’s a lot of negative things about him, but I think he understands our Constitution,” said participant Gina McNair, 52, a small business owner. “He understands how this government runs. I think he’s highly intelligent.”
Boenher, in his comments yesterday, said, “I’ve never seen a guy who could think outside the box a well as” Gingrich. Boehner then added a caveat: “He is a big thinker but, you know, like all big thinkers they’ve got some great ideas, they may have some other ideas.”
Gingrich’s rise could end as abruptly as it began. He’s the fourth Republican candidate in this election cycle to surge in polls; the first three -- U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Texas Governor Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain -- saw their support rapidly fall to single digits.
After facing a defection by his top advisers in June, Gingrich fell behind Romney and Perry in fundraising and hiring experienced political aides in early voting states.
A survey of television advertising spending over the past two weeks highlights the financial disparity between Gingrich and his rivals.
Gingrich has spent $78,990, with all of his spots running in Iowa, while Romney and his political action committee, Restore Our Future, have invested $550,580 in ads airing in New Hampshire, Iowa and neighboring television markets such as Rochester, Minnesota. Perry dwarfs them in spending, with a total of $880,220 in expenditures from his campaign and his aligned PAC, Make Us Great Again PAC.
With less than three weeks to go before nomination voting begins with the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, Gingrich’s rivals realize they are running out of time to slow his momentum.
Romney has abandoned his above-the-fray running style to take on Gingrich directly in interviews and campaign appearances.
“Zany is not what we need in a president,” he told the New York Times yesterday.
When asked about that remark, Gingrich declined to shoot back. “My campaign is going to focus on positive ideas and positive solutions,” he said.
Romney, a multimillionaire, tried to paint Gingrich as out- of-touch with middle-class voters in an interview with CBS News yesterday. “He’s a very wealthy man, a very wealthy man,” Romney said. “If you have a half-a-million dollar purchase from Tiffany’s, you’re not a middle class American.”
He was referring to a credit line of up $500,000 Gingrich and his wife had with the jeweler Tiffany & Co.
In addition to Romney, Republican presidential contender Ron Paul, a Texas congressman, has been running an ad attacking the frontrunner.
The ad, which accuses Gingrich of “serial hypocrisy,” features news clips highlighting his support for individual health-care mandates, the bailout of major banks and his work for Freddie Mac, a government-backed mortgage lending company that lost millions in the collapse of the housing market.
Even Democrats, who have seen Romney as their likely opponent, are shifting their aim. The Democratic National Committee this week began circulating a web video painting Gingrich as a captive of his party’s conservative base, terming him an “original Tea Partier.”
Gingrich has yet to be affected by the full impact of those attacks, says Dianne Bystrom, a political science professor who specializes in political advertising at Iowa State University.
“I don’t know we’ve seen the effects in the polls yet,” she said. “They’ve just ratcheted up.”
--With assistance from Heidi Przybyla and James Rowley in Washington. Editors: Jeanne Cummings, Don Frederick
To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; John McCormick in Iowa City, Iowa, at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at firstname.lastname@example.org