Rivals' attacks are taking a toll, admits Gingrich
Meanwhile, Romney received the endorsement of Iowa's largest newspaper, The Des Moines Register, on its website Saturday evening
Charleston, South Carolina: Republican challenger Newt Gingrich acknowledged that his rival's attacks have taken their toll on his presidential campaign as he's zoomed toward the top of the polls.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney, his chief opponent for the nomination to take on Democratic President Barack Obama next year, predicted that conservative voters will reject Gingrich as they learn more about the former House speaker's lengthy Washington record.
Romney received the endorsement of Iowa's largest newspaper, The Des Moines Register, on its website Saturday evening. It was as much an endorsement of Romney as it was an indictment of his competitors.
"While other candidates have pandered to extremes with attacks on the courts and sermons on Christian values, Romney has pointedly refrained from reckless rhetoric and moralizing," the newspaper wrote.
The battle to unseat Obama is expected to revolve around U.S. domestic economic issues, including high unemployment and the weak job market. But during the nominating process, the Republican candidates have been skirmishing over their credentials and Washington insiders and Washington outsiders.
Gingrich cited "the extraordinary negativity of the campaign" in explaining why he was inclined to hold teleconferences with supporters every few days so people can discuss ideas and his campaign can "encourage them to raise any of these things that you get in the mail that are junk and dishonest."
"I'll be glad to personally answer, so you're hearing it from my very own lips," he said Saturday from Washington in such a forum with Iowa backers.
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, campaigned in early voting South Carolina, where conservative tea party activists have given Gingrich a strong lead in polls. Romney told reporters that many voters now are just beginning to pay attention to the race and will turn on Gingrich after they learn about his time in Washington and his role with mortgage company Freddie Mac, a quasi-government agency.
Gingrich's consulting firm collected $1.6 million from the company.
"I think as tea partyers concentrate on that, for instance, they'll say, 'Wow, this really isn't the guy that would represent our views,'" Romney said after a town hall meeting with South Carolina Rep. Tim Scott. "Many tea party folks, I believe, are going to find me to be the ideal candidate."
Gingrich said the attacks on his record have been brutal, but he insisted they are exaggerated.
"I just want to set the record straight," Gingrich told Iowa supporters. "We were paid annually for six years, so the numbers you see are six years of work. Most of that money went to pay overhead — for staff, for other things. It didn't go directly to me. It went to the company that provided consulting advice."
Other candidates focused their campaigns on Iowa, which holds its leadoff caucuses Jan. 3.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry were on bus tours through rural Iowa. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum stuck to a plan that has won him the honor of spending the most time in the state, yet has not yet translated into support in polls.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has a loyal following among his party's libertarian wing, worked to build momentum and organization in Iowa, although he did not have public events scheduled until midweek.
With Iowans incredibly undecided, most candidates are redoubling efforts before voters largely tune out the race for the week between Christmas and New Year.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who early on decided against competing in Iowa, planned a town hall-style meeting in New Hampshire where independents are the largest bloc. The state's primary is Jan. 10.
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Gingrich needs a win to keep his struggling campaign afloat, while Santorum hopes to knock Gingrich out of the race and consolidate conservative opposition to Romney.
Ohio is the largest battleground and most closely watched prize of the 10 contests on Super Tuesday.