Published November 20, 2011
Surging for the moment into a front-runner position in the Republican presidential race, Newt Gingrich is trying to insulate himself against the attacks that are sure to accompany his rise in the polls.
The former House speaker pitches himself as the most accomplished member in the 2012 field. By the campaign's count, he has cast 7,000 votes, delivered 1,500 speeches and written "thousands" of articles as well as two-dozen books.
That record is fodder for opposition researchers, as much as it is resume material for his presidential bid.
The campaign has now launched a website that bluntly tackles a host of controversies that have followed Gingrich and will likely pop up again in the run-up to the leadoff Iowa caucuses.
The first item on Gingrich's "Answering the Attacks" site deals with a hiccup Gingrich had at the very beginning of the campaign season, when he described the House GOP budget plan as "right-wing social engineering."
On the site, the campaign reminded readers that Gingrich later described his choice of words as too extreme. The site clarified that the candidate supports the plan to create a new system that would provide aid for private insurance to Medicare seniors, but said he would prefer to give seniors the choice to stay in the current system.
Gingrich also addressed a 2007 ad he cut with Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi in which the two of them called for action on climate change.
"Newt does not believe there is a settled scientific conclusion about whether industrial development has dramatically contributed to a warming of the atmosphere," the campaign said on the site. The campaign quoted Gingrich from an interview on Fox News calling the ad "probably the dumbest single thing I've ever done," but said the candidate believes conservatives "cannot be absent" from the debate about the environment.
The site tackled several topics dating back to his time as speaker, and before -- including his extramarital affair during the impeachment proceedings against former President Clinton. The campaign noted that critics who point to that "are ignoring" the fact that Clinton was on trial for perjury allegations. "Newt felt he had a duty to uphold the rule of law by pursuing impeachment," the campaign said.
The site said also that while Gingrich voted for the Department of Education, its bureaucracy has since "ballooned" and should be dramatically reduced. And the site said it was a "mistake" for Gingrich to support the Republican nominee in a 2009 House special election in New York State. In that race, GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava was trailing badly against a third-party candidate, Tea Party-backed Doug Hoffman -- she effectively dropped out of the race days before the election to endorse the Democratic candidate, who later won.
The site later tackled the more recent controversy over his consulting firm's payment by troubled mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
Gingrich echoed the language on the website following a forum on religion Saturday afternoon in Iowa.
"I did no lobbying, I have never done any lobbying," Gingrich told reporters, describing himself as merely a "strategic adviser."
As Gingrich's campaign tries to preempt the attacks, his opponents are looking for new angles.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., on Saturday went after his abortion record, something that wasn't addressed on the website.
"Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has failed to uphold a consistently pro-life stance throughout his career in public life," her campaign said in a statement, citing in part a 1990 column that described Gingrich as backing away from a stiff anti-abortion stance.
But Gingrich so far has avoided lunging at his GOP opponents, often stating at debates that they should focus on challenging President Obama and not each other.
The ex-speaker seems to have found a favorite target, though, in the Occupy Wall Street protesters. He lobbed harsh words at the movement Saturday in Iowa, describing them as representative of an entitlement culture.
"Now, that is a pretty good symptom of how much the left has collapsed as a moral system in this country and why you need to reassert something as simple as saying to them, go get a job right after you take a bath," Gingrich said.
A recent Fox News poll showed Gingrich leading the GOP field by a hair. The poll showed him with 23 percent, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney right behind him with 22 percent.
The poll showed businessman Herman Cain, who for weeks was competitive with Romney, dropping back to third place with 15 percent.
A new poll out of New Hampshire also showed Gingrich closing in on Romney, who is banking on a win in the Granite State primary. The Magellan Strategies poll showed Romney leading with 29 percent and Gingrich with 27 percent, inside the 3.6 percentage-point margin of error.