DAVENPORT, Iowa — Onetime Republican presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich called on campaign rival Mitt Romney Tuesday to “just level with the American people” about his moderate political views.
Asked point-blank in a nationally broadcast network interview if he was calling the former Massachusetts governor “a liar,” the former House speaker replied, “Yes.”
In the interview on CBS’s “The Early Show,” Gingrich declined to predict he’d win Tuesday night’s Iowa caucuses, but said “I don’t think anybody knows who’s going to get what right now.” He said “I think anybody can come in first” because of a large number of Iowa voters who remained undecided on the day of the caucuses.
Of Romney, Gingrich was asked about previous statements he’d made accusing his opponent of lying. Gingrich assailed Romney for negative television ads that have hurt his standing in the polls, saying Romney has been disingenuous about large sums of money that a Super PAC has been spending on his behalf for the attack commercials.
“I just think he ought to be honest with the American people and try to win as the real Mitt Romney,” Gingrich said. “He ought to be candid and I don’t think he’s been candid.”
But when asked if he could support Romney if he became the party’s nominee and runs against President Barack Obama, Gingrich answered affirmatively. “He would be much less destructive than Barack Obama,” he said. “If you think Barack Obama is someone who is not a risk to the country’s future, then that’s somebody to vote for.”
“I wish Mitt would just level with the American people and be who he really is and let’s have a debate between a Massachusetts moderate and a real conservative,” Gingrich said.
Briefly the frontrunner, Gingrich hoped for a respectable showing in the caucuses after being pounded by millions of dollars in attack ads.
The former House speaker was set to make an 11th-hour push for support as his campaign bus rumbles through eastern Iowa. He is scheduled to hold events in Muscatine and Burlington before he personally makes his case to a caucus gathering in Cedar Falls.
Gingrich rallied supporters in Davenport Monday night, urging them to help him pull off “one of the great upsets in the history of the Iowa caucuses.” Earlier in the day he had all but conceded defeat, saying he didn’t “expect to win.”
Still, he is setting his sights on New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he pledged to wage a more aggressive effort to draw contrasts with Republican rival Mitt Romney, whom he has labeled a “Massachusetts moderate.”
After emerging as a top GOP contender in early December, Gingrich saw his support falter as he was hit with a wave of tough ads painting him as an ethically-challenged Washington insider.
The ex-Georgia congressman has tried to cast himself as the conservative heir to former President Ronald Reagan, touting a supply-side economic plan of tax cuts and fewer regulations. But he has struggled to stay on message, blasting some of his GOP opponents even as he promised to wage a positive campaign.
“I believe I am the only person who has the range of experience necessary to fundamentally get this country back on the right track,” he said.