JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Charter bus companies got a boost in Iowa this week. In the closing days before next week's caucuses, Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann were all over the state traveling in campaign buses. NPR's Greg Allen spent much of the week on the bus with the Newt Gingrich campaign which encountered some bumps along the way.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's been a week of marathon campaigning for Gingrich: five or six campaign events each day, hitting Rotary meetings, pizza restaurants and coffee shops.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN STOP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How we doing? Good, good. Welcome.

NEWT GINGRICH: Good to see you.

ALLEN: With the caucuses just days away, it's time for closing arguments in Iowa. Gingrich says his is that he's a supply-side conservative with experience both in balancing the budget and in making government work.

GINGRICH: This is not a time to send an amateur to Washington. So having somebody who actually knows how to get something done in Washington, particularly given the mess that we've seen in the last three or four weeks, I think there's an even higher value than usual to have someone who could actually get things to work in Washington.

ALLEN: Despite his resume, Gingrich rejects the Washington insider label his opponents have worked to pin on him. It's the Washington insiders he says - elites, as he calls them, in both parties - who are behind many of the attacks that have knocked him from front-runner back into fourth or fifth place.

While he's been talking to crowds of 100 people or so, the airwaves have been blanketed by ads like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Newt has more baggage than the airlines. Freddie Mac helped cause the economic collapse, but Gingrich cashed in. Freddie Mac paid Newt $30,000 an hour, $1.6 million.

ALLEN: To try to counter those ads, set the record straight in his view, Gingrich takes questions about those claims at nearly every stop, such as this one from an audience member in Storm Lake:

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN STOP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What did you do for Freddie Mac for $1.6 million?

GINGRICH: First of all, I'm delighted you asked the question because...

ALLEN: Gingrich says that $1.6 million was to his company. Personally, he says he only received $35,000 a year for strategic advice he says he gave Freddie Mac.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN STOP)

GINGRICH: I'm a citizen. I do my citizen duty. I tell people exactly what I think. I am not a lobbyist. I have never lobbied once.

ALLEN: Gingrich said this week that he's considering mounting an ad to address the Freddie Mac story. But he tells every audience that he won't run attack ads against his opponents and will discourage superPACs that support him from doing so. It's been a grueling week for Gingrich, falling in the polls, defending his record. Some of the stress may have shown Friday when he teared up at a town hall when asked about his mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN STOP)

GINGRICH: And my whole emphasis on brain science comes in directly from dealing (unintelligible). From dealing with, you know, the real problems of real people in my family.

ALLEN: Gingrich's major challenge may be on the money front. Rivals like Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Perry have outspent him on ads in Iowa. Gingrich has tried to counter the attacks with nonstop campaigning and daily telephone town meetings. What he needs most are more voters like Darren Johnson, a fourth-grade teacher who attended a campaign event in Denison. He's heard the attacks, he says, but is sticking with Gingrich.

DARREN JOHNSON: We've seen it with every candidate who's risen to the top, that they're going to get attacked, sometimes even by their fellow Republicans. And I think it's a true test of the candidate if they can withstand that and still get their message out and still be there when the dust settles. I think that's important.

ALLEN: Gingrich lags in fundraising, but also in organization. While he focused on Iowa, he was one of the Republican candidates who failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in the Virginia primary. Despite his campaign's fall, Gingrich says he's staying in after Iowa. He's looking past New Hampshire to South Carolina and Florida, where he has led in the polls and which hold primaries later next month. Greg Allen, NPR News, Des Moines.

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