Shots Fired, Newt Gingrich Edition (The Note)

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )

If confrontation is the sincerest form of flattery in presidential politics, Newt Gingrich has got to be feeling pretty good about himself this morning.

Buoyed by stronger poll numbers and accompanying press attention, he’s clearly getting under the skin of his rivals for the Republican nomination. Look no further than Mitt Romney’s interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier yesterday in which Romney called Gingrich “a lifelong politician.”

“Speaker Gingrich is a good man.  He and I have very different backgrounds.  He spent his last 30 or 40 years in Washington.  I spent my career in the private sector.  I think that’s what the country needs right now,” Romney said. “No problem with Newt Gingrich.  A good man — but a very different person than I am based on our life experiences.”

Romney could have left out the “lifelong politician” part, but his decision to take a swipe (it seems that nothing ever happens randomly in the Romney campaign) is another sign that Gingrich represents the biggest threat to the former Massachusetts governor heading into the final month-long stretch before Iowa.

And while Romney’s going after Gingrich to keep him at bay, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is latching onto the former House Speaker to try to catch some of his draft, picking a fight with Gingrich over immigration policy.

“All these conversations that people — whether it’s Newt or whatever — who say ‘let’s do x y and z’… I think you’re wasting your time until you secure the border,” Perry said in an interview on Sean Hannity’s radio show yesterday.

Immigration aside, if Gingrich’s GOP opponents really want to hit his soft spot, his deep ties to Washington are it. As The New York Times reported today, while Gingrich “is adamant that he is not a lobbyist … in the eight years since he started his health care consultancy, he has made millions of dollars while helping companies promote their services and gain access to state and federal officials.”

The question now: Will Perry and Romney start to increase their attacks on the former House Speaker, or will they simply hope the weight of the media scrutiny and Newt’s track record of self-destruction will ultimately pull Gingrich down?

In the meantime, Gingrich is also benefiting from the misfortunes of the Herman Cain campaign, which is slowly but surely collapsing under the pressure of an Atlanta woman’s allegation of a 13-year affair with the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO.

Several prominent Cain supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire are contemplating switching their allegiance to Gingrich — a couple already have.

The dynamic creates a late-game opening for Gingrich who has been traveling between the key early primary states all week. Today, Gingrich hosts a town hall meeting in Greenville, S.C. before heading to Council Bluffs, Iowa to participate in a “Slice the Deficit” pizza party.

And at his first campaign stop today, Gingrich showed that he’s ready and willing to take Romney on, turning his “lifetime politician” back at him. “I’m a lifetime citizen,” Gingrich told his South Carolina audience this morning.


CAIN ACCUSER, GINGER WHITE, TALKS TO GEORGE STEPHANOPOULUS. Ginger White, who alleges a 13-year affair with presidential candidate Herman Cain, appeared exclusively on “Good Morning America” today, telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that she “can’t make this stuff up.” Cain sent out a fundraising appeal last night calling White a “troubled Atlanta businesswoman.” White responded today: “It’s very disappointing that he would call me troubled,” she said. “I’m not here to say anything negative about Mr. Cain, I’m only here to state the truth and what’s happened in the past.” She added that her relationship was “on and off” for the last 13 or 14 years. “This was not a consistent love affair that went on every day for the last 14 years.” White said she has received gifts and money for the last two-and-a-half years, but that “this was not sex for cash.” WATCH:

MEANWHILE, THE CAIN TRAIN, KEEPS ON CHUGGING. A dispatch from ABC Political Director Amy Walter: Although Herman Cain told his senior staff Tuesday morning that he was “reassessing” his campaign’s viability in light of an accusation by an Atlanta woman of a 13-year extra-marital affair, Cain’s campaign manager, Mark Block, said in an interview tonight that there is “no way he’s dropping out.” Block said the term “reassessment” was meant to imply a “strategic reassessment” and “not a reassessment of withdrawing” from the race. Cain, said Block, will outline the specifics of that strategic reassessment during a campaign stop in Dayton, Ohio tomorrow. In Ohio, Block said, Cain “will lay out his way forward.” When pressed on whether Cain, under any circumstances, would drop out, Block replied that just two things would push him out: “Mrs. Cain, and if we show up to do events and no one is there.”

RICK PERRY WEIGHS IN: Perry made his first comments on the latest allegations against Herman Cain this morning, saying the businessman needs to address them head on. “He needs to address these allegations.  That’s the bottom line,” Perry said in an interview on “Fox and Friends” Tuesday morning.  “He needs to address the allegations, and if they’re true he has to address that with the people of this country.”

And, on “Good Morning America,” ABC’s John Berman looks at whether the champion of 9-9-9 might be getting ready deep-six his candidacy. WATCH:

WORST CAMPAIGN EVER? “Herman Cain is in the midst of “reassessing” whether to continue his 2012 bid, but its legacy is already settled: His campaign will go down as one of the most hapless and bumbling operations in modern presidential politics, setting a new standard for how to turn damaging press coverage into something far worse,” writes Politico’s Jonathan Martin in a no-holds-barred assessment of Cain’s presidential bid. “The botched responses to allegations of marital infidelity, sexual impropriety and his own gaffes — not to mention the puzzling strategic decisions — have, in the eyes of many veteran strategists, reached record levels of ineptitude. It’s an operation that has repeatedly contradicted its own candidate, leveled baseless charges, and put Cain in difficult political spots with little apparent forethought.”


WHITE HOUSE WATCH: OBAMA ON THE ROAD IN PENNSYLVANIA. President Obama’s choice of Scranton, Pa., to talk taxes today isn’t just coincidence: it’s a strategic backdrop for a pre-election pitch aimed largely at white working-class voters in critical swing states, notes ABC’s Devin Dwyer. In a speech at Scranton High School — a setting identical to one used last week in Manchester, N.H. — Obama will plug his plan to extend and expand a payroll tax cut for workers and impose a new payroll tax cut for small businesses. He’ll also likely underscore Republican opposition, which has included GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney. Obama’s campaign strategists say the goal is to articulate in real, tangible terms what’s at stake for the middle class in the 2012 campaign, and how the differences between candidates could mean a hit to their pocketbooks. If the existing payroll tax cuts are allowed to expire at the end of December, the average middle class family earning $50,000 a year would face an effective tax hike of $1,000, the White House says.  In Scranton, where the median income is $34,700 according to the Census Bureau, an individual earning that amount would owe an additional $696 to the government in 2012.

GOP COUNTER-PROGRAMMING. The Republican National Committee has unveiled a new web ad titled “Failed Promises: Scranton” ahead of President Obama’s visit today. According to the RNC, the spot “highlights President Obama’s dismal economic record in the state: unemployment up 19 percent, 37,900 manufacturing jobs lost in the state and 189,000 more Pennsylvanians living in poverty.” WATCH:



CAN NEWT SHED HIS BAGGAGE? Newt Gingrich is giving his opponents a run for their money, but some are questioning whether social conservatives — a group Gingrich desperately needs to win the candidacy — can overlook his oft-controversial political and personal baggage. Gingrich’s Washington insider label may not be that easy to shake off. The former House speaker has spent more than 20 years in Congress, and the last decade building up small business enterprises with close ties to politicians. His personal life has taken just as much heat as his political record. ABC’s Huma Khan takes a look at elements of Gingrich’s past that continue to haunt him, including his work for Freddie Mac, his marital problems, his views on immigration, global warming, abortion and child labor.

ROMNEY EXAGGERATES ACCESSIBILITY CLAIM. ABC’s Emily Friedman reports from Florida: Hounded by reporters wanting their questions answered yesterday on the ropeline after an event in Tampa, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney refused to engage, telling the reporters, “Guys, we have press avails or press conferences almost every day and that’s when I answer the questions.” Not quite. Romney’s last press conference was nearly a week ago, on November 23 in Des Moines, Iowa, where he took just four questions before an aide yelled “last question!” The one before that? November 19 in New Hampshire. And a full week before that Romney held a press conference in Mauldin, S.C, on November 11. And in October, he held just three press availabilities total. Yesterday, Romney went on to explain why he doesn’t like to take questions on the rope line — despite having done so earlier in the day at a Miami event. “When I’m meeting people it’s not a good time to answer questions that are important and require good attention and a thorough answer,” said Romney.

RICK PERRY DISMISSES RUMORS OF A CAMPAIGN SHAKEUP. ABC’s Arlette Saenz reports: Texas Governor Rick Perry called the reports of a shakeup of his campaign staff “scuttlebutt,” and said campaign manager Rob Johnson and chief strategist Dave Carney remain in their respective roles.”News to me, news to me. I talked to both of them within, as a matter of fact the last 24 hours, so if they have, news to me,” Perry told reporters when asked if the two had been demoted or were leaving the campaign.” I would suggest to you that’s just scuttlebutt, highly technical Aggie term.” Perry said he was not aware of reports that Joe Allbaugh might assume some of Carney’s duties, but he also did not deny it, saying only that he’s working on being the “best candidate” and not focusing on the distribution of duties within his campaign.

UP NEXT FOR THE NEW DEMOCRATS. “With a tax reform debate looming and House seats to compete for in suburban districts throughout the country, members of the New Democrat Coalition say their stock is rising,” Roll Call’s Jessica Brady reports. “Like the once-mighty Blue Dog Coalition, the New Democrats have had a diminished role in the minority, with a smaller membership and few legislative opportunities to flex their influence on stock issues such as trade and innovation. But unlike the predominantly rural and Southern Blue Dog membership, New Democrats from urban and suburban districts contend that their numbers will only increase after the 2012 elections. ‘Many of the seats that we’re going to be competitive in and we’re going to win back, I think, are seats that appeal to the New Dem Coalition’s message,’ Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), chairman of the group, said in a recent interview. ‘And I have no doubt many of those folks will seek to become New Dems.’”

WHAT EARMARK BAN? “Members of the House and the Senate attempted to pack hundreds of special spending provisions into at least 10 bills in the summer and fall, less than a year after congressional leaders declared a moratorium on earmarks, congressional records show,” the Washington Post’s Kimberly Kindy reports. “The moratorium, announced last November in the House and in February in the Senate, is a verbal commitment by the Republican leadership to prohibit lawmakers from directing federal funds to handpicked projects and groups in their districts. Lawmakers have tried to get around the moratorium by promising to allow other groups to compete for the funds. But the legislative language is so narrowly tailored that critics consider the practice to be earmarking by another name. The efforts to resurrect spending on pet projects reveal the tenuous nature of current reform efforts. Two senators have publicly called out their colleagues and will introduce legislation Wednesday that would ban earmarking with the force of law.”



@ HotlineReid : Rep. Aaron Schock reportedly asking donors if he should run for Illinois governor. Next up in 2014  #HotlineSort

@ llerer : With his numbers on the rise, Newt builds a more aggressive campaign — but is it too late? My take from S.C. #2012

@ mpoindc : “Building a Better Mitt Romney-bot” RT  @TimAlbrechtIA: A new DRAPER article!!

@ DavidMDrucker : RT  @jimacostacnn Cained out? CNN/ORC POLL 2nd Choice for Nominee Among Cain Voters: Gingrich 38% Romney 25% Perry 10% Bachmann 9% Paul 6%

@ Chris_Moody : Remember the massive crowds for Newt in Florida? Wasn’t a fluke. He’s dominating the state in a new poll:



* Newt Gingrich begins his day in Greenville, South Carolina where he’ll host a town hall. Then, Gingrich travels to Council Bluffs, Iowa where he’ll participate in a “Slice the Deficit” Pizza Party.

* Herman Cain heads out on bus tour across Ohio, making stops in West Chester, Dayton and Columbus. Later in the day he travels in Manchester, NH where he plans to hold a press conference.

* Rick Perry will speak at two events in New Hampshire including one at the State House in Concord.

* Michelle Bachmann campaigns in Iowa which includes a stop at the University of Northern Iowa.

* Mitt Romney has no scheduled events, but his son Josh Romney will meet with volunteers in Des Moines, Iowa.

* Jon Huntsman will address the New Hampshire State Legislature at the State House in Concord.

* Ron Paul hosts a town hall meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

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