(Updates with Gingrich rally in Virginia beginning in 11th paragraph. For more campaign news, go to ELECT.)
Dec. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Republican presidential front- runners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich announced endorsements and traded barbs over advertisements as both campaigned in New Hampshire.
“The speaker would like to say, ‘Look, we shouldn’t have any negativity,’ but, look, 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 of Gingrich this morning on MSNBC. “We have to show that we, as a Republican Party and as a candidate, that we can stand up to the barrage that’s going to come from the Obama world.”
Gingrich, who called the ads aimed at him “dishonest,” said that after the Iowa caucuses, he would consider holding a rally in New Hampshire with Massachusetts expatriates to call attention to the differing visions of government that he and former Massachusetts Governor Romney hold. Gingrich said he would call it, “Please Don’t Turn America into Massachusetts.”
The two candidates, separated by two points in the daily national Gallup tracking poll, are feuding over ads being funded by a pro-Romney political action committee.
Going After Gingrich
The group has been airing commercials that go after Gingrich, a former House speaker, on a variety of issues, including the $1.6 million consulting payments he received from Freddie Mac, the government-chartered mortgage company that lost millions in the housing crisis at taxpayers’ expense.
The pro-Romney PAC, Restore Our Future, has spent more than $2.5 million on ads and direct mail against Gingrich, Federal Election Commission records show.
“I suspect we’ll have to fight our way back,” Gingrich told reporters in Manchester. “Most of the negative advertising is shamefully dishonest.”
Some Gingrich backers said the ads were hurting the former speaker. “Attack ads usually do have an impact,” said New Hampshire state Representative Duane Erickson.
Romney said he had no control over the ads, which are funded by his supporters and can’t be coordinated with the campaign.
At a Keene restaurant where he announced his endorsements, Romney told reporters, “that’s the point of a campaign, to point out distinctions” that allow voters “to make their decision on an informed basis.”
In Arlington, Virginia, tonight, Gingrich suggested Romney meet him in a 90-minute one-on-one debate in Iowa next week where Romney could explain the negative ads.
“We’ll find out tomorrow how he likes the heat, and whether he wants to come in the kitchen -- or whether, in fact, he’s just a normal national politician with clever consultants and lots of money and no willingness to stand up and tell the truth,” Gingrich said at a rally with supporters.
Gingrich, who as recently as Dec. 19 suggested he might “barely” gather enough signatures to make it onto Virginia’s ballot, told the crowd that he would meet tomorrow’s deadline.
Even so, he said he was still trying to capitalize on his surge in opinion polls.
“We weren’t ready for it yet because we don’t have the structure and we don’t have the money to compete at that level, so we had to scramble a little bit,” Gingrich said.
Romney, who is in the midst of a four-day New Hampshire bus tour where the first-in-nation primary will be held on Jan. 10, campaigned with U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, former Senator Judd Gregg and the head of a local Tea Party group. Later, the campaign announced the endorsement of Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska and three former Iowa and New Hampshire House speakers.
Such endorsements can help voters who may not be familiar with those seeking their support, lawmakers said.
“I get a lot of phone calls as to whom I’m supporting and why,” said incoming Keene Mayor Kendall Lane, who also endorsed Romney today. “That’s part of the judgment around here.”
A few hours later, Gingrich stood on a podium in a downtown Manchester hotel and received the backing of state House Speaker William O’Brien. Earlier in the day, Gingrich was endorsed by Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen.
Romney, who owns a home in New Hampshire, leads in opinion polls in the state, though Gingrich has closed the gap. A Nov. 29-Dec. 6 CNN-Time magazine poll of likely voters put Romney ahead, 35 percent to 26 percent. Four years ago, Romney lost the primary to Arizona Senator John McCain, who went on to win the Republican nomination.
The polls are still fluid, Gregg said in an interview before appearing on the podium with Romney in Keene.
“People decide late,” Gregg said. “They listen to everyone. The one thing that’s predictable about New Hampshire is that it’s unpredictable.”
--Editors: Jeanne Cummings, Jim Rubin.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Manchester, New Hampshire, at email@example.com; Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Arlington, Virginia, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at email@example.com.