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Romney comes under fire from Gingrich, Democrats
Associated Press
2011-11-29 07:51 AM
Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney found himself coming under fire Monday for his changing positions on key policy issues from both his main challenger for the party's nomination and Democrats supporting President Barack Obama.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose presidential campaign is on the rise just weeks before the first nominating contests take place, offered a sharp criticism of Romney. Gingrich acknowledged that he isn't the perfect candidate but insisted he's "a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney and a lot more electable than anybody else."

For months, Gingrich has refused to criticize his Republican presidential rivals and instead has focused his criticism on Obama. That all seems to be over. Branding the former Massachusetts governor as a political opportunist, Gingrich said it is one thing to change positions if new facts become available and quite another to shift positions for political gain.

"It's wrong to go around to adopt radically different positions based on your need of any one election, then people will have to ask themselves, `What will you tell me next time?'" Gingrich told WSC-FM radio Monday morning ahead of a three-day campaign swing through South Carolina, which holds the first presidential primary in the South.

In a career that includes an unsuccessful Senate race and one term as governor in Massachusetts, plus a 2008 presidential bid, Romney at times has favored legalized abortion, a ban on assault weapons and a pathway to legal status for some illegal immigrants.

He since has rejected those views. He also takes a harder line than before on government stimulus programs and bank bailouts. Romney's health care initiative in Massachusetts required residents to obtain medical insurance, but he rejects the notion that it was a model for Obama's national health care reform plan enacted last year over vehement Republican opposition.

Over the years, Romney has minimized the significance of some of his shifts. He attributes others to heartfelt changes of opinion.

It isn't enough to convince some, including Gingrich.

"We think there has to be a solid conservative alternative to Mitt Romney," Gingrich said.

Romney also came under attack from the Democratic National Committee which on Monday began running ads mocking the former Massachusetts governor _ a sign they view him as Obama's most likely opponent. Party activists say it's unlikely their ads will significantly influence the Republican contest, even though they would prefer to have Obama run against someone other than Romney, who is seen as more moderate than his more conservative rivals.

With Democrats targeting Romney, it seemed as if the November 2012 election campaign was already under way _ even though there is just a little over a month left before the first Republican nominating contest in Iowa on Jan. 3. But Democratic activists said Obama can't afford to wait to begin undermining Romney's standing among independent voters in key battleground states.

A Democratic TV ad is airing in the swing states of North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and New Mexico. Democrats also held events in Iowa, Florida, Michigan, Maryland and Massachusetts to call attention to a longer and more detailed version of the criticisms on the website mittvmitt.com.

The video calls Romney "an unparalleled flip-flopper." It shows two late-night comedians mocking his sincerity and three Fox News reporters seeming to question Romney's authenticity.

Romney's campaign quickly arranged conference calls in several states to combat the Democratic TV and Internet ad that depicts him as a politician lacking core values. Republicans said Obama just wants to turn attention away from the weak economy, but the urgency of the Romney reaction suggested his campaign sees the flip-flop accusations as serious.

Tim Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor who endorsed Romney after dropping his own presidential bid this year, said Obama has failed to create jobs or reduce the federal debt. "This administration does not want to campaign against Mitt Romney and be forced to defend three years of failure," Pawlenty said.

The Democrats' strategy assumes Romney will emerge as the nominee, even though polls show him struggling to lock down the support of more than one-quarter of likely Republican primary voters.

Romney, who enjoys the support of the party establishment, has long led the Republican race with the party's conservative wing yet to coalesce around a single challenger. None of his main rivals has been able to challenge Romney's lead for an extended period. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain have all quickly risen and faded.

Cain's decline followed allegations he had sexually harassed women when he headed a restaurant trade association in the 1990s. His problems may have deepened Monday after a Georgia woman said she had a 13-year extramarital affair with Cain. He has denied both the affair and the harassment allegations.

The latest rival to surge in the polls is Gingrich, who on Sunday picked up the endorsement of the Union Leader, New Hampshire's largest newspaper and a prominent conservative voice in the state which holds the first presidential primary in January. Gingrich has seen his political standing rise as he has posted solid debate performances while his rivals faltered.

The newspaper took a swipe at Romney's history of switching positions on issues held sacred by conservative voters. The loss of the endorsement is a stinging blow to Romney, who governed the neighboring state of Massachusetts and has a vacation home in New Hampshire.

In South Carolina, Gingrich touted himself as the one candidate who "can bring together national security conservatives and economic conservatives and social conservatives in order to make sure we have a conservative nominee."

However, Gingrich also faces questions about his two divorces and admissions of infidelity, his reputation as a Washington insider, and some of his own policy shifts. His rivals have suggested his immigration policy would offer amnesty for illegal immigrants.

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