Attacks hurt Gingrich in Iowa race

The Republican presidential race has been thrown wide open two weeks before the first votes in the battle for the party’s nomination, as Newt Gingrich’s standing in the crucial state of Iowa has been eroded by more than $1-million in negative advertising — much of it bankrolled by allies of fellow frontrunner Mitt Romney.

The former House of Representatives leader’s slide in Iowa mirrors his newfound troubles nationally and it has boosted the confidence of Romney, his chief rival, in the lead off caucus state on January 3.

With the Iowa caucuses looming in two weeks, the race is arguably anyone’s to win. And the results will shape the rest of the state-by-state march to the Republican nomination.

Gingrich acknowledged the onslaught of attacks on him had taken a toll and tested his pledge to keep his criticism focused on Democratic President Barack Obama.

Aides for several campaigns competing against Gingrich as well as outside independent groups aligned with the rival candidates say their internal polls find that he has fallen over the last week from the top slot in Iowa. And a national Gallup poll released on Monday found Gingrich’s support plummeting: He had the backing of 26% of Republican voters nationally, down from 37% on December 8. Romney’s support was largely unchanged at 24%.

Gingrich rushed back to Iowa on Monday after a three-day absence for several days of campaigning before voters tune out this weekend for the Christmas holiday.

‘Reprehensible behavior’
“The only person who profits from Republican ads attacking other Republicans is Barack Obama and I think it is pretty reprehensible behaviour on the part of some of the candidates,” Gingrich said on Monday.

At a later appearance in Hiawatha, Gingrich encouraged voters to demand that Romney and others take down the tough spots.

Gingrich’s weakened position follows a barrage of advertising that cast him as a long-time Washington power-broker. The ads, primarily financed by so-called super political action committees, underscore the power of independent groups following a Supreme Court decision last year that allowed individuals, unions and corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to outfits advocating the election or defeat of political candidates. Since the ruling, groups have popped up to work on behalf of every serious Republican presidential candidate.

Gingrich has redoubled his appeals to Conservatives, who make up the base of the Republican party, with sharp criticism of the judiciary, saying he would have the justice department instruct the US Marshal service to arrest judges who ignore subpoenas to testify in Congress about their decisions.

Romney joined those criticising Gingrich’s comments on judges, telling Fox News in an interview on Monday that Gingrich’s idea of sending authorities after judges was neither constitutional nor practical.

“Let me tell you, there are a lot of decisions by judges I vehemently disagree with,” Romney said. “The solution to judges out of control is not to tear up the Constitution and say that the Congress of the United States becomes the now ultimate power in this country … In the Constitution, there is a method for removing a justice. There’s also a method for reversing their decisions.”

Meanwhile, an anonymous independent group, calling itself Iowans for Christian Leadership, is urging Conservatives not to back Gingrich in light of his two divorces and past marital infidelity. The group has issued fliers and posted a scathing online video aimed at Gingrich.

As Gingrich tried to answer the criticism, Romney — his chief rival — was largely laying low, increasingly expressing optimism as he revels in a series of endorsements from establishment party figures such as Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, early-voting state leaders like South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and newspapers including the Des Moines Register of Iowa. — Sapa-AP

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