Just a few days ago Newt Gingrich promised to run a "relentlessly positive" campaign. It's a message he reiterated in a letter sent to members of his staff - and released to members of the press - this morning:
"I am instructing all members of my campaign staff and respectfully urge anyone acting as a surrogate for our campaign to avoid initiating attacks on other Republican candidates." Gingrich wrote. "It is my hope that my Republican opponents will join me in this commitment."
Mitt Romney, meanwhile, offered a pledge not make "offensive" or "incendiary" statements about his Republican rivals or President Obama.
But those promises seemed to fall apart rapidly yesterday as both of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination took increasingly damaging shots at each other. It's shaping up to be a knock-down, drag-out fight for the GOP nomination that is leaving Democrats downright gleeful.
Romney and Gingrich and their allies traded barbs all day on Monday.
"If he was working as a spokesman for Fannie Mae - excuse me, Freddie Mac - if he was there because of his political connections - and then if Freddie Mac fails, I think a fair question is asked, why did he profit as Freddie Mac failed?" Romney said yesterday of his opponent.
He called on Gingrich to return the more than $1.6 million he earned from Freddie Mac.
Gingrich shot back: "If Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he's earned on bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years if being, then I would be glad to then listen to him, and I'll bet you $10, not $10,000 that he won't take the offer."
Is this a wise idea for the "relentlessly positive" Gingrich?
"I think Newt needs to stop this and get above this and go back to how he performed in the debates over the course of the summer and the fall because that's when he rose," ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd told George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" today. "The more he gets dragged down into this I think the worst for him." http://abcn.ws/uaCqg7
More analysis from Dowd and James Carville on "Good Morning America." WATCH: http://abcn.ws/rqcRcz and a rundown of where things stand in the GOP race just three weeks out before the Iowa Caucuses from ABC's John Berman. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/vE9Jsq
NOTABLE: What does a Newt-Mitt "fight" (or a "Newt Romney" fight, as Michele Bachmann might put it) mean for the other contenders? Ron Paul has a very good chance of winning in Iowa and Jon Huntsman is hoping that a Newt-Mitt brawl leads to folks taking a second look at him in New Hampshire.
THE NOTE'S QUOTE: MITT ROMNEY: "There's no whining in politics."
"We aren't running any negative ads at this point, but we may," Romney said yesterday "This is, after all, politics. There is no whining in politics. You get in a political process and you fight hard and describe the differences between yourself and the other candidates."
PREDICTION: Democratic Strategist James Carville to Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" today: "I'm almost certain that the Romney people and other people are going to roll out more grenades on Speaker Gingrich. I think we're in about the third inning here between the Iowa caucuses." http://abcn.ws/uaCqg7
FROM THE DESK OF NEWT GINGRICH: More from his letter to staff this morning: "I have refrained from launching attacks on my Republican opponents, though I have reserved the right to respond when my record has been distorted. On Monday this occurred when Governor Romney and I engaged in what in diplomatic circles is called "a frank exchange" over our respective records in the private sector. That same day, however, Mr. Romney announced, 'I'm not going to say outrageous things that can be used to hang [a GOP opponent] down the road.' I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. So let us hope that from this point forward we can devote our energies to real issues, such as discussing our plans for our nation's economic recovery and helping to create millions of new jobs for the American people."
$10,000 FALLOUT: SANTORUM 'TAKEN ABACK.' Presidential candidate Rick Santorum said he was "taken aback" by Mitt Romney's $10,000 bet at Saturday night's ABC News presidential debate, suggesting that "a nickel or a dollar" would have been a more appropriate amount. "I was a little taken aback by it," Santorum told reporters on Monday after a campaign event in Des Moines. "That would not be a number I would have thrown out," he said. "I either say a nickel or a dollar. I use, 'I'll betcha' a dollar' or 'I betcha nickel.' It's the substantive argument not the money, and as the father of 7 children, nickels and dollars are easier to come by than $10,000," Santorum said.
RICK PERRY'S IOWA AIR WAR. ABC's Arlette Saenz reports from Des Moines: In a new television ad going on the air in Iowa today, Texas Gov. Rick Perry characterizes himself as the outsider and truth teller who will put aside political correctness to overhaul Washington, D.C. "Washington is the capital of political correctness, where double speak reigns and truth is frowned upon," Perry says as he looks directly into the camera. "You can't say that congressmen becoming lobbyists is a form of legal corruption or that we give aid money to countries that oppose America. Or that Washington insiders are bankrupting social security. You and I know it's true, but not politically correct. I'm Rick Perry an outsider who will overhaul Washington and tell you the truth." Perry's new ad, the latest in the campaign's million dollar advertising push in the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, comes one day before he begins a 42 city bus tour through Iowa on Wednesday. http://abcn.ws/rQE9mA
ANOTHER 'THROW THE BUMS OUT' ELECTION COMING? "Across a wide array of measures, Americans are now as dissatisfied with Congress as they were immediately before the 2006 and 2010 electoral landslides that ousted the majority party in one or both chambers, according to a year-end United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll," reports the National Journal's Ron Brownstein. "In the survey, independent voters - whose shifts in allegiance helped trigger both the big Democratic gains of 2006 and last year's Republican revival - display little faith in either party, and register a strong initial inclination to vote against their own incumbent member of Congress. Not only a solid majority of independents, but also a surprisingly large share of Republican and Democratic partisans, say they are reluctant to give either party control of both chambers, preferring instead a divided government where both can 'act as a check on each other.' All of this points toward more volatility ahead after three consecutive elections in which control of at least 20 House seats has changed hands between the parties - the first time that many seats have shifted that often since the immediate aftermath of World War II. In recent decades, the closest America has come to a true 'throw the bums out' election was the scandal-shrouded, recession-colored redistricting year of 1992, when 13 Republican and 30 Democratic House incumbents were ousted and another 65 members retired. This survey highlights the possibility that incumbents in both parties could face similar risks in 2012, another redistricting year shaped by economic and political discontent." http://bit.ly/t671BE
THREE WEEKS OUT, IOWA EVANGELICALS CAN'T MAKE UP THEIR MIND. "Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader, a conservative advocacy group popular with evangelical Christians here, has been saying supportive things recently about Newt Gingrich, suggesting that social conservatives are open to looking past his extramarital affairs and two divorces as they make a choice in the Republican presidential race. … Yet ask Mr. Vander Plaats which candidate he will back, and he has no answer yet. … His indecision highlights the searing divisions among conservative Christian voters in Iowa, where matters of faith and personal morality are driving intense and sometimes emotional debates among evangelicals about principle and electability. The landscape could not be more different from 2008, when evangelicals propelled Mike Huckabee, a former pastor, to victory after he used his connections in the state's churches and home-schooling community to drive people to show up at the caucuses. At stake this time is whether Mr. Gingrich, despite a past that some conservative Christians say should disqualify him, can benefit from the aversion of many evangelical leaders to Mitt Romney, whose Mormon faith and history of having once supported abortion rights has left many on the religious right wary - or whether the support of evangelicals will be dispersed, undercutting their influence and giving the rest of the field a clearer shot at a strong showing. Other candidates, like Representatives Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Ron Paul of Texas; Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania; and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, are also aggressively courting evangelicals." http://nyti.ms/u3TaNg
ROMNEY'S $1.1 MILLION NIGHT. From ABC's Emily Friedman: "While GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich participated in a Lincoln-Douglas debate with Jon Huntsman in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney had already slipped out of the Granite State after a day of campaigning and into the arms of some very generous supporters. As much as $1.1 million was reportedly raised at a much-anticipated fundraiser this evening in Parsippany, N.J., which was hosted by N.J. Gov. Chris Christie, who endorsed Romney in October. … 'As you've watched Gov. Romney perform over the last number of months in the many debates that our Republican presidential candidates have participated in, the things that are constant in Gov. Romney's performances are things that will be constants in his presidency,' Christie said, according to a pool report from the event." http://abcn.ws/rZHN9X
RON PAUL ON THE ATTACK. "Ron Paul's campaign has launched a new ad going after former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's influence peddling," ABC's Jason Volack reports. "The 'Selling Access' ad intertwines Gingrich's own words with several television talking heads, accusing the former speaker of receiving $1.8 million from mortgage giant Freddie Mac just before it collapsed and receiving $37 million from the health care industry. The ad then ties Gingrich with the individual mandate clause in the Affordable Care Act, the health care overhaul pushed by President Obama, and adds: 'Newt Gingrich has been on the both sides of a long list of issues.' Then Gingrich's own words are used as he is seen bragging about earning $60,000 a speech." http://abcn.ws/sNUYT5
GINGRICH AND HUNTSMAN DEBATE IN NEW HAMPSHIRE. ROMNEY LOSES. "The winner in Monday's debate between Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman isn't as important as who is the loser: Mitt Romney," writes ABC's Matt Negrin. "Newly minted as the GOP's technical front-runner after Saturday's six-candidate showdown, Gingrich started the week off raising the profile of Huntsman, who didn't even qualify for the debate in Iowa. The two of them are sitting down for a 'Lincoln-Douglas'-style debate in New Hampshire, un-moderated and so each of them is guaranteed plenty of time in front of the news media. It's no accident that Gingrich's counterpart in the forum is Huntsman, who has made the Granite State his campaign's top priority and who is the candidate closest to a Romney alternative. 'The strategic decision that Gingrich is making is, he wants somebody to try to cut into Romney's support,' said Andy Smith, the director of the Survey Center at the University of New Hampshire. Even if Romney wins the New Hampshire primary, Smith said, Gingrich would benefit if the former Massachusetts governor loses some voters to Huntsman, who is polling poorly across the country. 'Any media attention that he gets is good media attention, so for him, this is a no-brainer for Huntsman,' Smith said." http://abcn.ws/u2HsCv
@ DavidChalian : Messina says that Obama 2012 has more staffers on the ground in Iowa than any of the GOP candidates.
- Newt Gingrich does not have any public events scheduled, but is expected to receive several local endorsements in Atlanta. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal will unveil local supporters at the State Capitol in the afternoon.
- Rick Santorum will continue his "Faith, Family and Freedom" tour in Belle Plaine and Manchester, Iowa. He is also expected to address employees at VGM & Associates in Waterloo and the National Contract Management Association in Marion.
- Ron Paul is back on the campaign trail with an evening town hall in Peterborough, New Hampshire
- Jon Huntsman will make media stops in New York City with interviews on ABC's "The View" and CNN's "OutFront"
-ABC's Joanna Suarez
Check out The Note's Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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