With rival Newt Gingrich nipping at his heels in South Carolina, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney launched a major offensive against the former House speaker and his tenure in Congress, floating new, highly critical Web ads and enlisting Gingrich’s former GOP colleagues to describe his chaotic reign as speaker. Romney also took him to task for claiming to have created jobs as a junior member of Congress.
In a conference call with reporters set up by the Romney campaign, former Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri said of serving with Gingrich in Congress, “Each one of us has stories about going home and having to apologize for our speaker.”
Also on the call was former Rep. Susan Molinari of New York, whose husband, Bill Paxon, was among a band of members who tried to oust Gingrich in 1997. Gingrich’s tenure from 1995 to 1998, she said, was “leadership by chaos.… The focus is always Newt and when the focus is Newt, the Republican Party loses.”
Talent and Molinari are also featured in the Romney’s campaign new anti-Gingrich Web ads, one of which is titled "Unreliable Leader." In the ad, Talent says that Gingrich’s “erratic behavior” and “chaotic decisions” undermined the Republican House majority’s conservative agenda in the late 1990s.
“It’s a problem when your own leader is the biggest political problem that you’re dealing with which is why we removed him as the speaker,” Talent says in the ad. “This election needs to be about Barack Obama, and if the speaker were the nominee, the election would be about him and his unreliable leadership in the past.”
Recent polls show Gingrich in second place to Romney among likely GOP voters in South Carolina. A CNN/Time poll in early January showed Romney in first place and Gingrich in a virtual tie, with Rick Santorum in second place.
At a campaign stop in Spartanburg, S.C., Romney personally slammed Gingrich for his claims that he helped create jobs when he was in Congress. “He’d been in Congress two years when Ronald Reagan came into office. That’d be like saying 435 congressmen were all responsible for those jobs. Government doesn’t create jobs. It’s the private sector that creates jobs,” Romney said.
“Congressmen taking responsibility or taking credit for helping create jobs is like Al Gore taking credit for the Internet,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd with his reference to the former vice president’s assertion that he helped create the Internet.
Romney used a similar line against rival Rick Perry in September, saying that the Texas governor’s claim to have created more jobs in his state than Romney did as governor of Massachusetts “would be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet.”
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