Gingrich: Iowa attack ads ‘good practice’ for general election

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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DERRY, N.H. — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took a philosophical approach Sunday to the attack ads run in Iowa by a Super PAC backing for Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, explaining his slow response and vowing that while he would stay positive, he would also “draw a sharper contrast” between himself and his rivals.

In his Iowa concession speech and in other speeches since then, Gingrich has blamed his poor showing in the caucuses on those attack ads, which he called false. But Gingrich took a more measured approach when an audience member asked him how he proposed to convince people that he could be an effective GOP nominee, when far worse was almost definitely waiting from the Obama campaign.

“It was actually very good practice in Iowa,” he said. “Now think about it: Almost half — 45 percent — of all the ads run in Iowa were attacks on me. Now, on one level I felt kind of honored.”

His response to the ads was not as effective as it might have been for a variety of reasons, he said. For one, his campaign was not ready for his surge in the polls and the scrutiny that came with it.

“Remember, I got to be the front-runner on a totally positive campaign,” Gingrich said. “Shocked everybody — partly including me. I didn’t think I’d become the front-runner until probably March. And so we were not ready for the difference of speed and intensity when you become the front-runner.”

“You have to run a campaign on contrast, and you have to answer the negative ads very fast,” Gingrich continued, identifying something he was unable to do.

“Now, initially we were very slow for practical reasons,” he explained. “I didn’t want to get into a dance where Romney would put up ad number one, I would answer it, and then he would put up ad number two, and I would answer it — and since he has vastly more money than I do, I would end up consistently using up all of my time talking about what’s wrong with those ads.”

“And so we really spent a couple weeks just watching and thinking,” Gingrich said. “And I told people routinely [that] Iowa, this was a great experience, I was going to stay totally positive, and the truth is, I did okay considering the weight of advertising against me.”

“And we were actually coming back,” he continued, “because part of what happens over time is people get used to it. They go, ‘oh that stupid ad again.’ And so you gradually begin to regret them.”

However, he said, he had concluded that it was necessary to “draw a sharper contrast,” and so during the last week in the Granite State he had been emphasizing — and would continue to emphasize — the differences between himself and the former Massachusetts governor.

“I’m not going to try to match the Romney campaign’s negative ads,” Gingrich said. “I’m prepared to say ‘I am a Reagan conservative, he is a Massachusetts moderate.’ That seems to actually hurt almost as much as ads.”

For example, he said, on Monday morning his campaign would release “a YouTube video — of every tax he [Romney] raised.”

Gingrich said he didn’t consider such an ad to be going negative.

“That’s just fact checking. It’s not nasty … and so we’re going to do that kind of thing,” he said.

If he were to win the nomination, Gingrich said, he was sure he would find himself in the Oval Office next year.

“I am fairly confident that if I become your nominee … that we will beat him by a historic margin,” Gingrich predicted. “And we will carry the Senate and the House with us as we do that.”

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