THE MORNING LINE -- December 13, 2011 at 7:45 AM ET
Gingrich-Romney Fight Turns Personal
GOP presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich share a moment at Saturday's debate in Iowa. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.
The rivalry between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney veered from political differences to personal attacks Monday, marking a sharp turn in the Republican presidential nominating fight just three weeks before the Iowa caucuses.
The dustup started with Romney calling on Gingrich to return the estimated $1.6 million the former House speaker received from the government-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
In response to Gingrich's claim that he was paid as a historian, Romney told Fox News, "That would make him the highest paid historian in history," adding, "Look, this whole Washington crowd of insiders that stay there, get paid a lot of money there because of their associations, I think it's something the American people are tired of."
Gingrich shot back that he would consider returning his Freddie Mac earnings, but only if Romney gave back "all the money he has earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain."
"But I bet you $10 -- not $10,000 -- that he won't take the offer," Gingrich added, in a dig at Romney's widely panned offer to bet Texas Gov. Rick Perry at last Saturday's debate.
Those barbs were traded as the two leading GOP contenders campaigned in New Hampshire, the only early voting state where Romney still maintains a lead in the polls.
For Romney, the Granite State represents an opportunity to blunt Gingrich's momentum if the former Georgia congressman is able to win Iowa. A New Hampshire victory for Gingrich, meanwhile, could put him on track to sweep the first four states on the 2012 nominating calendar: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
The question that remains is: How far would either candidate go to stop the other from claiming the nomination?
In an interview with Mike Allen of Politico, Romney pledged not to level attacks in the primary campaign that could severely damage the Republican standard-bearer in the general election next fall.
"I'm not going to say outrageous things that can be used to hang [a GOP opponent] down the road. ... In my view, [primary voters] want someone who is willing to be a responsible leader, that brings America together as opposed to dividing America. ... I am what I am. I don't tend to say outrageous things about other people that I don't believe in order to win political points."
The Washington Post's Amy Gardner, Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker report that by Monday evening, Gingrich was back to his message of running a positive, issue-oriented campaign.
At a nighttime event in Windham, Gingrich made a more direct appeal for a cease-fire among the Republican candidates, drawing enormous applause from a crowd of about 1,000.
Still, as the intensity of the campaign grows more heated in the coming weeks, it's unclear how long cooler heads will prevail.
GOOD NEWS FOR GOP
A new USA Today/Gallup poll has good news for the Republican Party: A survey of 12 swing states found that GOP voters were much more excited about the 2012 elections -- a similar situation to 2010, when enthusiasm helped sweep House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, into power.
The contrasting conditions of the nation's two major political parties -- discouraged Democrats and resurgent Republicans -- underscore how different Obama's re-election campaign is from the contest four years ago.
Consider the math: In 2008, when Obama carried the swing states by 8 percentage points, Democrats there swamped Republicans in party identification by 11 points. Now, that partisan edge has tightened to a statistically insignificant 2 points. Democratic victory last time has turned into a Republican asset. Sixty-one percent of Republicans say they are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting for president next year, compared with 47% of Democrats.
Among the most enthusiastic are some of the GOP's core voters: conservatives, middle-aged men and those 50 to 64 years old. Those who are least enthused include core Democratic groups that were critical to Obama's election in 2008, including minorities and younger voters.
The poll was taken in the 12 states that could shift to either side: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
In a poll of registered voters in those states, President Obama trails Mitt Romney, 48 percent to 43 percent, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 48 percent to 45 percent.
Another tidbit from the poll: 74 percent of registered voters in the swing states said they can't wait for the campaign to be over, and 70 percent nationwide shared the sentiment.
House Speaker Boehner announced that the House will vote Tuesday on a version of the payroll tax extension that would also force President Obama to decide on whether to allow the Keystone oil pipeline to be built.
The Hill's Molly K. Hooper has these details:
The White House has threatened to veto the package of language that would force a decision to approve the Keystone oil sands pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. House Democratic leaders are also whipping against the package, which means Boehner will have to count on a lot of support from Republicans.
Boehner predicted that the measure has a "good shot" of remaining intact when the Senate takes it up later this week, despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) warning that the pipeline provision was a non-starter.
The debate over the oil pipeline has become a key part of the debate over whether American workers continue to see a tax break next year worth $1,000 to the average family.
The Associated Press has more on where the debate stands on the pipeline:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas will help the president achieve his top priority -- creating jobs -- without costing a dime of taxpayer money.
"There is no reason this legislation shouldn't have the president's enthusiastic support," McConnell said Monday on the Senate floor. "The only reason for Democrats to oppose this job-creating bill would be to gain some political advantage at a time when every one of them says job creation is a top priority."
The State Department said last month it was postponing a decision on the pipeline until after next year's election. Officials said the delay is needed to study routes that avoid environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska.
The GOP language would require approval of the pipeline within two months unless Obama declares it is not in the national interest.
The State Department warned Monday that congressional interference in the approval process would likely lead to a rejection of the pipeline. The State Department has authority over the project because it crosses an international border.
ON THE TRAIL
All events listed in Eastern Time.
President Obama is in Washington, where he does a round of regional television interviews from the White House at 10:30 a.m. and delivers remarks at a campaign event at 11:45 a.m.
Rick Santorum campaigns in Iowa, hosting a town hall in Belle Plain at 11:30 a.m., speaking to employees of VGM & Associates in Waterloo at 2:30 p.m., holding a town hall in Manchester at 5 p.m. and addressing the National Contract Management Association in Marion at 7:30 p.m.
Ron Paul attends a town hall meeting in Peterborough, N.H., at 7 p.m.
All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
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