DES MOINES - With less than 48-hours before ABC News' pivotal presidential debate in Iowa this weekend, the multi-front war for the Republican presidential nomination has never been more intense.
ABC News, Yahoo! News, WOI-TV, the Des Moines Register and the Iowa GOP are sponsoring the debate, which airs at 9 p.m. ET on ABC and will stream online. Offer questions for George Stephanopoulos and Diane Sawyer to ask the Republican candidates by clicking here.
The main aggressors over the past few days have been Mitt Romney and his allies. Today they are out with a fresh assault on a surging Newt Gingrich in the form of a web video titled, "With Friends Like Newt." http://abcn.ws/v5UZuY
As ABC's John Berman reports, the spot lambastes the former House speaker for his criticism of Paul Ryan's Medicare reform plan, using sound and images from a range of pundits and politicians. The ad quotes conservative icon Ryan saying of Newt, "With friends like that, who needs the left." Gingrich once labeled the Ryan plan "right-wing social engineering." (Notably, Romney wasn't exactly an early or fervent supporter of Ryan plan.)
The video comes just hours after a SuperPAC backing Romney released a negative ad accusing Gingrich of "flip flopping" on issues. As ABC's Emily Friedman notes, the ad opens with an image of President Obama, and asks the question, "Why is this man smiling?"
"Because his plan is working," the narrator says. "Brutally attack Mitt Romney and hope Newt Gingrich is his opponent." http://abcn.ws/tHC4Ij
And what's Gingrich's response to the ads and to the Romney surrogates who've been attacking him this week? He's just not going there.
"I'm going to stay positive, I'm going to talk about how we solve the country's problems," Gingrich said yesterday. "And I have one opponent, Barack Obama."
The key question for the Romney campaign is whether these volleys against Gingrich are too little too late.
As veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove told George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" today: "My suspicion is they're all looking at themselves saying, 'why didn't we start this weeks ago?'"
"Yesterday I think the attack was sort of flailing," Rove added, "Lets see if the Romney campaign gets a little more focused." http://abcn.ws/snWrbR
From Des Moines, ABC's Jake Tapper took a look at Romney campaign's attempts to tear down Newt Gingrich on "Good Morning America" today. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/sxEFnU
GINGRICH CAMP ON ROMNEY SUPER PAC AD: "This won't be the first, this won't be the last. There's going to be an awful lot of them and none of them are going to work." (via Time Magazine's Mark Halperin) http://ti.me/s2BwMy
NEWT-ROMNEY WATCH FRIDAY: Today Gingrich is in Washington, D.C., where he and his wife Callista will hold a book signing in Union Station at 4 p.m. Romney holds a town hall in Cedar Rapids this morning, and Ann Romney will have an event in West Des Moines this afternoon.
DEMOCRATIC COUNTER-PROGRAMMING. Two Democratic SuperPACs, Priorities USA Action and American Bridge 21st Century, have teamed up again for a joint memo and video characterizing the Romney campaign's new strategy as "Romney's GOP Desperation Express."
"He'll say and do anything if he thinks it will help him get elected," Priorities USA Action's Bill Burton writes in the memo. "During the 2008 campaign, Romney launched attacks against every one of his major rivals- Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani. … While the Republican candidates disagreed on much, there was a general agreement that Romney's relentless attacks were unfair. Many commentators argued that the ads backfired - helping to propel Huckabee and McCain to come-from-behind victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. But in 2008 and 2012, a scorched-earth campaign is the only strategic path for a candidate who has shown for six years that the appeal of his positive message is limited to 25% of Republican primary voters."
THE BACKSTORY. "Democrats are honing a new line of attack against Gingrich's leadership while intensifying their months-long offensive against Romney's character," ABC's Devin Dwyer notes. "The move - coming through a series of Web videos, press conferences, and television interviews - signals an attempt by supporters of President Obama to aggressively define his two most likely challengers and, in doing so, fan the flames of an internal GOP debate. "The Republican Party has split into two parties: the tea party and the martini party," chief Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod told Bloomberg this week, offering his spin on the Gingrich-Romney divide. … Still, as the Democratic messaging machine pursues Gingrich and Romney separately, strategists from the Obama campaign to the White House are continuing to paint all Republicans on the campaign trail and in the halls of Congress as cut from the same cloth. 'Neither of the frontrunners really understands the needs of the middle class,' said a senior Democratic strategist in characterizing how the party was preparing to bracket the ABC Iowa debate." http://abcn.ws/tZJQ5m
#IOWADEBATE WATCH: Yesterday we tweeted a sneak peek at the ABC News, Yahoo! News, Des Moines Register, WOI-TV debate site on the campus of Drake University in Des Moines: http://abcn.ws/sbEDRE
Drake University has also posted a behind-the-scenes slideshow of the making of a presidential debate on the university's Flickr feed: http://bit.ly/vLzaBk
NEWT: AHEAD IN THE POLLS AND STILL SELLING BOOKS. "Even as he widens his lead in the polls, Newt Gingrich spends substantial time on an activity that raised questions about his ultimate motive when he was a back-of-the-pack candidate: selling and signing $25 copies of his books," The New York Times' Trip Gabriel notes. "As his primary foe, Mitt Romney, and the White House intensify their efforts to negatively define Mr. Gingrich, his sole public event on Friday is at a bookstore in Washington. On Saturday he flies to Des Moines for a Republican debate but plans to squeeze in an afternoon book-signing. Experienced campaign strategists cannot recall a top-tier contender devoting so much time to pitching products while seeking the White House. Mitt Romney, who also has a book out, has never sold it while stumping, his campaign said. President Obama, a best-selling author in 2007, did not incorporate sales events into campaign appearances, according to a spokesman for his re-election committee. Mr. Gingrich's devotion to book-selling, Republican strategists said, raises questions about the propriety of a candidate who is generating personal income while seeking the White House, as well as whether he is making the optimum use of limited campaign time." http://nyti.ms/v3cLrY
RICK SANTORUM SCORES KEY IOWA ENDORSEMENT. ABC's Shushannah Walshe reports: Iowa's Secretary of State Matt Schultz will be endorsing Rick Santorum Friday, ABC News has learned. The campaign teased the endorsement as a "major announcement" and it is a big boost for the candidate who has spent the most time campaigning in the state. During the last cycle, Schultz backed Mitt Romney, who shares his Mormon faith. Their shared religion as well as the previous endorsement in 2007 will definitely be interpreted as a swipe to the former Massachusetts governor. "Matt Schultz is a rising star within the Iowa Republican party," Tim Albrecht, caucus veteran and communications director for Iowa governor Terry Branstad said. "His endorsement is another in a long line of impressive gets for the Santorum campaign. Rick Santorum's organization here is real and that will be reflected on caucus night." http://abcn.ws/uLKe8b
MICHELE BACHMANN'S IOWA PUSH. The stakes are high for presidential candidate Michele Bachmann in the Hawkeye State and today her campaign is emphasizing its ability to organize. From a morning press release: "Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann today announced her Iowa campaign has county chairs in 91 of the state's 99 counties and precinct leadership in every county. The announcement is further evidence of Team Bachmann's exceptional grassroots organizational strength, one of which has been gaining significant momentum as the Iowa caucuses near." As ABC's Russell Goldman notes, her campaign released a "strategy video" on the Internet, featuring campaign manager Keith Nahigian reiterating Bachmann's plan to win the nomination - first win Iowa. "When Michele Bachmann goes to Iowa, she's not visiting," Nahigian says. "She's going home." WATCH: http://bit.ly/t4MqlZ
RICK PERRY WADES INTO ROMNEY-GINGRICH BATTLE. "Rick Perry waded into the fight between the two candidates leading the GOP field - Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich - by releasing his first negative television ad against a fellow Republican," according to ABC's Arlette Saenz. "The ad, titled "Obamacare" which will run in Iowa, links Romney and Gingrich to the individual mandate. "We don't want Government mandated health care. Yet Newt Gingrich supports it. And Mitt Romney? He put it into law in Massachusetts. Worse, Barack Obama forced it on the entire nation," a voice reads in the 30-second ad. "Rick Perry. He'll repeal it, starting day one." The ad's release came just hours after Perry said he would not meddle in the fight between Romney and Gingrich. "I'll let those two get in the ring and go at it. I'll be out campaigning, shaking hands and asking people to support me because we need to get this country back working again," Perry said at a press conference aboard the USS Yorktown in Mt. Pleasant, S.C." http://abcn.ws/sYIPga
ANY HOPE FOR AN 'ALSO-RAN'? The Washington Post's Eli Saslow profiles former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, who is among a cadre of "lesser-known presidential hopefuls, who wonder why they are ignored even in this wide-open Republican primary, in which voters express dissatisfaction with their options and shift from one temporary front-runner to the next. Why not Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico? Why not Thad McCotter, a congressman from Michigan? Why not Fred Karger, a senior political consultant who advised three presidents?… 'What I'm learning is that becoming president is not always about experience and ideas,' Roemer said. 'It's also about money, fame and momentum.' Like other unknown candidates, Roemer has been stuck in a cycle of anonymity ever since he formed his campaign and moved to New Hampshire in the summer, inviting his senior staff member to sleep on his couch and establishing a temporary headquarters at the coffee shop inside Barnes & Noble. He lacks money to buy advertisements, he said, 'so even distant relatives don't know' that he is running for president." http://wapo.st/rXlxRa
RON PAUL RALLY DRAWS 1,000-PLUS. A dispatch from ABC's Jason Volack in Ames, Iowa: Hot on the heels of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in Iowa, Ron Paul is rallying the youth vote and drawing big crowds. Speaking to a standing-room-only gathering of more than 1,000 college-age students in Ames, Iowa, Thursday night, Paul declared again that the war on drugs had been a failure, reminding the audience that more people had died in preventing people from using drugs than from the drugs themselves. "I'm just not frightened by a free society," said Paul. "I'm frightened by those who prevent us from having a free society. That's where the real threats are." The Paul campaign has picked up steam and has its sights set on new national front-runner Newt Gingrich, by going after the anti-Washington, anti-establishment voters. Paul's speech Thursday night again attacked the Patriot Act, telling the audience that it passed quickly and overwhelmingly even though it contained "a lot of bad stuff." http://abcn.ws/vbP7rA
LOCAL COLOR: IOWA EDITION. ABC's Elicia Dover spots this gem: An Iowa minister has been texting a music video out which refers to Gingrich as the 'Kim Kardashian' of the GOP. The Des Moines Register has the story: http://dmreg.co/u2V07z
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX: CHARLOTTE, HERE WE COME. "The Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) today announced the opening of the 2012 media credentialing process for the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Applications are being accepted by both the Congressional Press Galleries and the DNCC Press Gallery."
-Newt Gingrich will hold a book signing at Union Station in Washington, D.C.
-Mitt Romney will discuss jobs and the economy in a town hall meeting at the Diamond V in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
-Mitt Romney's wife, Ann Romney, will also be in the Hawkeye State, campaigning at a "Women for Mitt" event in West Des Moines.
-Rick Perry's wife, Anita Perry, will address the Clinton County Republican Women's Club at a luncheon in Clinton.
-Rick Santorum will hold events in Cedar Falls and Newton, Iowa. Later in the evening, Santorum is expected to make major announcement in Des Moines. ABC News has confirmed that Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz will endorse Santorum at this event.
-Michele Bachmann will hold a town hall meeting with Nationwide Insurance employees in Des Moines, Iowa.
-Ron Paul will hold town hall meetings in Webster City, Mason City, Waverly and Cedar Falls, Iowa.
-ABC's Joanna Suarez
Check out The Note's Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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