Jan. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Mitt Romney, able to seize the offensive in Iowa’s Republican presidential contest, turned overnight into a front-runner on the defensive as rivals stepped up attacks on the former Massachusetts governor in advance of New Hampshire’s pivotal Jan. 10 primary.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich spent much of yesterday in New Hampshire targeting Romney, calling him “a person who accommodated liberalism in Massachusetts.” He also questioned Romney’s truthfulness
U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas debuted a radio advertisement in the state that disputes the former Massachusetts governor’s central campaign argument that he’s the Republican best able to beat President Barack Obama.
“Romney’s record is liberal, and putting him up against Obama is a recipe for defeat,” the ad announcer says.
Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, boosted by his second-place showing in the Iowa caucuses after having spent most of the year lagging in polls and campaign cash, targeted Romney in a fundraising appeal.
“No more sitting on the sidelines,” he wrote to supporters. “Now is the time to act or get stuck with a bland, boring career politician who will lose to Barack Obama.”
Romney, who has had a large lead in polls in New Hampshire throughout his second presidential bid, can expect more of the same in televised debates on Jan. 8 and 9 that lead up to the state’s primary.
Romney eked out a win over Santorum in Iowa by just eight votes, with each getting roughly 25 percent of the total. Paul ran third, with 21 percent. The results reshaped the race, as U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who placed sixth in Iowa, announced the end of her presidential bid. Fifth- place finisher Texas Governor Rick Perry signaled through a tweet to supporters that he is skipping New Hampshire to make a last stand in South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary.
Gingrich, the fourth-place finisher in Iowa, lashed out at Romney, portraying him as a political chameleon who has raised taxes, expanded bureaucracies and enacted a health-care measure that allowed for government-funded abortions and gave authority to Planned Parenthood.
“There is an enormous difference between somebody who has spent their entire career as a Reagan conservative and somebody who has spent their entire career as a Massachusetts moderate,” Gingrich told voters at Belknap Mills in Laconia, New Hampshire. Earlier in Concord, Gingrich attacked the Romney electability argument.
“I find it amazing that he continues to say that he’s the most electable Republican when he can’t even break out in his own party,” Gingrich told reporters in Concord, pointing to the close three-way finish in Iowa.
“We are going to go at it very hard for the next week,” Gingrich told about 20 New Hampshire legislators in the basement of Concord’s Barley House restaurant.
He dismissed as false Romney’s claim that he had no control over the barrage of negative television advertisements his backers ran against Gingrich in Iowa. “These are your ads, and now let’s fight over it,” Gingrich said. “It’s an insult to our intelligence” for Romney to assert otherwise, he added.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, Gingrich said of Romney: “He’s not truthful about his record in Massachusetts and his background. He’s not truthful about his PAC, which has his staff running it and his millionaire friends donating to it, although in secret. And the PAC itself is not truthful in its ads.”
Santorum worked to capitalize on his new status in the Republican race.
“We shocked the world last night in Iowa,” Santorum wrote in a fundraising appeal.
Speaking to supporters in Concord, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who declined to compete in Iowa, said “the effect of Iowa was that 75 percent of the party -- 75 percent -- didn’t want the status quo with Romney.”
At a stop at a Globe Manufacturing, a shop that makes firesuits in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, Huntsman said the Iowa outcome “means there’s a whole lot of blue sky for the rest of us in the race.”
Obama’s re-election campaign took aim at Romney, describing him as a “weak front-runner” who had to rely on negative ads to eke out an Iowa win.
‘25 Percent Man’
“He’s still the 25 percent man, and until he proves he’s not, I don’t think we can close the books on this nominating process,” said David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political adviser.
Previewing a strategy the president would use against Romney, Axelrod and Jim Messina, the re-election campaign manager, accused the Republican front-runner of shifting positions on abortion and gay rights to appeal to Iowa’s socially conservative voters.
“Taking two positions on every issue doesn’t make you a centrist; it makes you a charlatan,” said Axelrod.
The Romney camp sought to project an aura of inevitability in New Hampshire. Invited to join Romney on stage in Manchester were popular party figures, including former New Hampshire Governor John H. Sununu and Senator Kelly Ayotte.
The campaign also showcased an endorsement from Arizona Senator John McCain, who defeated Romney to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and is a two-time winner of the New Hampshire primary.
“I am really here for one reason and one reason only and that is to make sure that we make Mitt Romney the next president of the United States of America,” McCain told voters gathered in a high school gym in Manchester.
While Romney declined to take shots at his Republican rivals, McCain highlighted Santorum’s past support for earmarks -- the congressional funding of local projects. McCain, a long- time opponent of earmarks, said he had “spirited exchanges” with Santorum on the issue when they both served in the Senate.
A key question over the next week will be whether Romney can maintain his composure and focus in the midst of a sustained assault from multiple fronts, a situation he avoided as his opponents mostly battled among themselves in the Iowa campaign.
Gingrich said he also is ready to step up his criticism of Paul, telling the New Hampshire legislators that “he’s gotten so much momentum that he has to be taken on.” He also discounted the significance of Paul’s showing in Iowa finish.
“Candidly, what drove his campaign in Iowa was legalizing drugs,” which led young people to back him, Gingrich said.
Paul’s campaign announced Jan. 2 that it would run television advertisements in New Hampshire branding Romney a “flip-flopper,” and reprising his criticism that Gingrich has displayed “serial hypocrisy” by changing his positions on policy issues based on the interests of consulting clients.
Paul also is arguing that his performance in Iowa established him as the principal alternative to Romney.
“The simple truth is, there were three tickets out of Iowa, and only two of those campaigns have the resources, funds, volunteers and organization to compete nationwide -- and one of them is mine,” Paul wrote in a fundraising appeal.
--With assistance from Sandrine Rastello in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, and Jonathan D. Salant in Washington. Editors: Don Frederick, Jim Rubin.
To contact the reporters on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Concord, New Hampshire at firstname.lastname@example.org; Lisa Lerer in Manchester, New Hampshire at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at firstname.lastname@example.org