For Gingrich, A Week Of Attacks And Falling In Polls

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It's been a week of marathon campaigning for GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich: five or six campaign events each day, hitting Rotary meetings, pizza restaurants and coffee shops.

With the caucuses just days away, it's time for closing arguments in Iowa. Gingrich says his argument is that he's a supply-side conservative with experience both in balancing the budget and in making government work.

"This is not a time to send an amateur to Washington," he said earlier this week. "So having somebody who actually knows how to get something done in Washington — particularly given the mess that we've seen in the last three or four weeks — I think there's an even higher value than usual to have someone who knows how to get things done in Washington."

Despite his resume, Gingrich rejects the "Washington insider" label his opponents have worked to pin on him. It's the Washington insiders he says — "elites," as he calls them, present in both parties — who are behind many of the attacks that have knocked him from front-runner back into fourth or fifth place.

While he's been talking to crowds of 100 people or so, the airwaves have been blanketed by ads like the one that claims he has "more baggage than the airlines."

The ad continues: "Freddie Mac helped cause the economic collapse, but Gingrich cashed in. Freddie Mac paid Newt $30,000 an hour: $1.6 million."

To try to counter those ads — set the record straight, in his view — Gingrich takes questions about those claims at nearly every stop. For example, one audience member in Storm Lake asked, "What did you do for Freddie Mac for $1.6 million?"

Gingrich says the $1.6 million was paid to his company. Personally, he says, he only received $35,000 a year for "strategic advice" he says he gave to Freddie Mac.

"I'm a citizen. I do my citizen duty. I tell people exactly what I think. I'm not a lobbyist. I've never lobbied once," he said.

Gingrich said this week that he's considering mounting an ad to address the Freddie Mac story. However, he tells every audience that he won't run attack ads against his opponents and will discourage super PACs that support him from doing so.

It's been a grueling week for Gingrich, falling in the polls, defending his record. Some of the stress may have shown Friday when he teared up at a town hall when asked about his mother.

Gingrich's major challenge may be on the money front. Rivals like Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Perry have outspent him on ads in Iowa. Gingrich has tried to counter the attacks with nonstop campaigning and daily telephone town meetings.

What he needs most are more voters like Darren Johnson, a fourth-grade teacher who attended a campaign event in Denison. He's heard the attacks, he says, but is sticking with Gingrich.

"We've seen it with every candidate who's risen to the top, that they're going to get attacked, sometimes even by their fellow Republicans," Johnson says. "I think it's a true test of the candidate if they can withstand that and still get their message out and still be there when the dust settles. I think that's important."

Gingrich lags in fundraising, but also in organization. While he focused on Iowa, he was one of the Republican candidates who failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in the Virginia primary.

Gingrich, though, says he's staying in after Iowa. He's looking past New Hampshire to South Carolina and Florida, where he has led in the polls and which hold primaries later in January.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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