Rivals Put Gingrich in Crosshairs

With Newt surging, Romney aims low to peel away conservative support.

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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is bracing for a ferocious assault on his ideology, his zig-zags on the issues, and his character. He won't have long to wait.

Gingrich, who has rocketed to the top of the Republican presidential field and is now the front runner in many polls, is increasingly a target not only of fellow candidates but of many in the GOP establishment and of Democrats, too.

Mitt Romney is zeroing in. The former Massachusetts governor has been overtaken by Gingrich in the opinion surveys, and Republican strategists say he needs to pull Gingrich down a few pegs. Romney appears to agree.

He told Fox News that he will increasingly draw contrasts with Gingrich. He promised to "make sure that the differences in our experience and perspective are well aired...We have very different life experiences. If Americans want someone who 's been in Washington the last 40 years, then that's him."

A new TV ad by Romney's campaign, which is scheduled to run in Iowa this week, presents an attractive picture of Romney's family life.

Romney has been married to the same woman for many years. By contrast, Gingrich has been married three times, and analysts see the ad as a way to contrast Romney's stable relationship with his wife to Gingrich's messy marital past.

Romney surrogates are also increasingly active in criticizing Gingrich. Two Romney supporters--former Gov. John Sununu of New Hampshire and former Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri--plan to criticize Gingrich's record in a session with reporters today.

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And Gingrich is under attack from other GOP quarters. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, another Republican presidential candidate, is running an ad in Iowa, which holds the GOP's first nominating caucuses on January 3, in which Gingrich is criticized as a hypocrite.

"Everything that Gingrich railed against when he was in the House, he went the other way when he got paid to go the other way," Paul's ad says.

The Democrats are starting to take shots at Gingrich, too. While they continue to attack Romney as a flip-flopper who can't be trusted, Democratic strategists say the former House speaker has many vulnerabilities of his own.

David Axelrod, President Obama's chief strategist, told journalists gathered by Bloomberg View in New York City yesterday that Gingrich bears responsibility, along with other Republican leaders in Washington, for past incidents of "shutting down the government in order to defund the EPA, and to defund education programs and to cut Medicare in order to give tax cuts to the wealthy."

For his part, Gingrich says he always expected to be attacked once his campaign took off and he won't be thrown off stride. His supporters say his popularity runs deep in the GOP because he is offering creative conservative solutions for the country's problems.

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