BURLINGTON, Iowa (AP) — After weathering a full-on assault in Iowa, Newt Gingrich and his allies planned Tuesday to hit back hard at rival Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential campaign pushed east.
The first salvo was a full-page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader that was to appear as Gingrich touched down in the state early Wednesday. It labels the former House speaker a "Bold Reagan Conservative" and Romney a "Timid Massachusetts Moderate."
Campaigning in Iowa hours before the first-in the nation caucuses get under way Tuesday night, Gingrich said his campaign will put up ads in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida — the next three states to vote — that aggressively contrast his record with Romney's. And at least one pro-Gingrich super PAC 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.
Spending by pro-Gingrich groups in Iowa has been anemic compared to the millions of dollars flowing from PACs supporting Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, according to federal campaign finance data.
The shift by the former House speaker to a more muscular strategy comes after he watched a lead in Iowa polls evaporate amid a barrage of attack ads, many run by a super PAC backing Romney.
Going on the offensive against Romney places Gingrich in a tricky position: He has been bashing super PAC spending by Romney and saying it's dishonest to hide behind independent groups doing a candidate's dirty work. And he's promised to wage a positive campaign, even as earlier Tuesday he painted Romney as a liar.
Gingrich said it is not negative "to accurately describe someone's record."
"He doesn't tell the truth," Gingrich said.
The former Georgia congressman previewed his likely lines of attacks in Burlington, Iowa, as he ticked off what he said was Romney's past support for gun control and the inclusion Planned Parenthood in the Massachusetts health law he signed as governor.
Still, Gingrich insisted his ads would not be negative.
"All we have to say in a happy and positive way is 'Newt believes in the Second Amendment, here's what Romney said about guns. Newt believes in right to life and here's what Romney did with Romneycare,'" he said. "You can do that pretty happily and have happy music."
For his part, Romney said Tuesday in Iowa that he expected to face an onslaught.
"It's a long road . I expect people to come after me," he said in an interview on MSNBC. "And if I do well here, I'll have a target painted on me, and so I expect other folks to come after me. ... And, you know, if I can't stand up to that, I shouldn't be the nominee."
Seeking to put a positive spin on what could be a disappointing finish in Iowa, Gingrich said his campaign is "just getting started.
A skilled political tactician who in 1994 engineered the first GOP takeover in the House in four decades, Gingrich said that he has been mulling how to draw a "core contrast" with Romney for the next 30 days, which are expected to prove pivotal in choosing the GOP nominee.
"I'm fairly convinced we have a strategy that Romney will find very, very hard to deal with," he said.
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