DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Newt Gingrich blamed a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses on his rivals' attack ads and seemed to conclude that turnabout is fair play as he pressed on with a new aggressive stance against front-runner Mitt Romney.
After criticizing Romney for running a negative campaign and promising to stay positive, Gingrich appeared before supporters to criticize the former Massachusetts governor as someone who couldn't bring change to Washington. He also planned to run television ads against Romney in the next three states to vote — New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
The former House speaker called Romney a "Massachusetts moderate who, in fact, is pretty good at managing the decay." He said the ex-governor has "given no evidence in his years in Massachusetts of any ability to change the culture or change the political structure."
Gingrich's turnabout in strategy came as he was running fourth in returns from the nation's first Republican presidential nominating contest, after he led polls in the state just a few weeks ago. But Gingrich said he does not foresee the GOP race ending anytime soon.
"One of the things that became obvious in the last few weeks in Iowa is that there will be a great debate in the Republican Party before we are ready to have a great debate with Barack Obama," he said.
Gingrich congratulated two other contenders, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, for strong showings ahead of him but emphasized he will air contrasts between himself and Romney. He praised Santorum, who was running neck and neck with Romney to win the caucuses, for running a "great, positive" campaign. And while he praised Paul he warned his foreign policy was dangerous.
Earlier Tuesday, Gingrich vowed to fight on and said the negative ads against him, many run by a political action committee backing Romney, had taken a toll. Gingrich told The Associated Press while grabbing a snack at his hotel coffee shop that he just needed a little more time to reach out to voters and rebuild the lead he once held but that evaporated in a barrage of attack ads.
"We needed two more weeks," he said.
Gingrich's planned a full-page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader that was to appear as he touched down in the state early Wednesday. It labels Gingrich a "Bold Reagan Conservative" and Romney a "Timid Massachusetts Moderate."
At least one pro-Gingrich super PAC also was getting into the mix.
"We definitely plan to engage," said Rick Tyler, a former longtime Gingrich aide now working for the pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning our Future. "I think that Newt has signaled a communications shift in which he wants to define Romney and to draw a contrast between his record and Romney's."
Tyler declined to be specific about the group's plans. The independent political action committees are banned by law from coordinating with the candidates they are supporting.
A key question is whether Gingrich will have the cash to wage an effective assault. A spokesman said he'd raised roughly $9 million in the last three months of the year but that he would spend most of it to compete in Iowa. It is also unclear how much money the pro-Gingrich PACs have raised.
Gingrich said it is not negative "to accurately describe someone's record."
"He doesn't tell the truth," Gingrich said.
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