Gingrich Takes On Romney In N.H.

Newt Gingrich may have placed fourth in Iowa, but he has come out swinging in New Hampshire. Thursday, he took on Mitt Romney, had even harsher words for President Obama — and toned it down a bit on Rick Santorum.

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Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich campaigned in northern New Hampshire today. Under a light snow, the former House speaker stopped in a number of picturesque towns. His message - that he is the only Republican who can beat President Obama. Gingrich called former Governor Mitt Romney a Massachusetts moderate, but saved his harshest rhetoric for the president.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports from Littleton, New Hampshire.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Former Speaker Gingrich's first stop was a former railroad station turned senior center in Plymouth. As an audience of a few dozen townspeople listened politely, and for the most part silently, Gingrich blasted President Obama.

Yesterday, the president named Richard Cordray to the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as appointing three members to the National Labor Relations Board. They were recess appointments, though Congress technically isn't in recess.

The former speaker called the move a politically motivated violation of the balance of powers.

NEWT GINGRICH: This president has proven a total willingness to violate the law and to impose an imperial presidency in trying to reshape the country. And he's done it for a clear reason. He's paying off his union allies. I mean, it has nothing to do with good government and everything to do with trying to buy his re-election.

NAYLOR: Taking on Mr. Obama is a no-risk move for Gingrich. But he continued his criticism of the man who polls show with a commanding lead among New Hampshire primary voters, Mitt Romney. He said Romney governed Massachusetts as a moderate; appointing liberal judges, and pushing the statewide health insurance plan known as RomneyCare. By contrast, Gingrich referred to himself as a Reagan conservative.

GINGRICH: There's a very big difference in our two sets of values. I don't believe a Massachusetts moderate is in a very good position to debate Barack Obama. And I think it would be very hard for him to win the general election, because I think it just blurs everything.

NAYLOR: Gingrich said he was not engaging in negative campaigning, but was simply contrasting his and Romney's records. But his campaign also introduced a new TV ad to run in the state, in which Gingrich calls Romney's economic plan quote, "virtually identical to Obama's failed policy," adding, quote, "timid won't create jobs."

Gingrich also was dismissive, if a bit gentler, on former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who finished just eight votes behind Romney in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses.

GINGRICH: If you think of us as partners, he would clearly - in historical experience - have been the junior partner. And he's not a bad person. I want to be clear about this.

NAYLOR: After listening to his speech, Littleton resident Marilyn Ryback says she supports Gingrich but is realistic about his prospects here.

MARILYN RYBACK: I don't give him much hope in New Hampshire, unfortunately. But it doesn't mean I don't think he'll win eventually. But New Hampshire is kind of hard because of Mitt Romney and, you know, being his home town and everything.

NAYLOR: John Patton, who has a software company in Hanover, says he doesn't go along with the prevailing sentiment that Romney is more electable.

JOHN PATTON: I do not agree. In fact, I think Romney will have a tough time contrasting himself with Obama. He seems like Obama-light. So I don't - although I will vote for him if he's the nominee.

NAYLOR: Gingrich, who finished fourth in Iowa, is keeping expectations about his chances in New Hampshire low, calling this one of Romney's three best states. He predicted, though, Romney's support will melt rapidly when the campaign heads south later this month, into states Gingrich expects to be his strongest.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Littleton, New Hampshire.

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