Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s Republican presidential rivals piled on the criticism, two days before the New Hampshire primary, with a combative former speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich accusing the front-runner of “pious baloney” and charging him with hiding behind inaccurate attack ads.
However, time was running out on Sunday to curtail Romney’s momentum in New Hampshire and perhaps elsewhere.
Romney’s opponents started the day assailing him on the debate stage and ended it by doing the same in appearances across New Hampshire and South Carolina. They worked to appeal to those Republican voters unenthused with the idea of Romney as the party’s choice to challenge US President Barack Obama in the presidential election in November.
Romney fired back at Gingrich during a morning debate and by the evening had also taken shots from former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, former Utah governor and US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman and Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Santorum made a beeline to the conservative state of South Carolina to trumpet the endorsement of former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer. There, he alluded to Romney’s flip-flops on a series of issues, saying: “We’ve got a lot of candidates that just adapt to whatever the environment is ... I don’t, because the truth doesn’t change.”
Looking to revive his flagging candidacy, Perry also arrived in the state where he told about 300 people at a restaurant in Spartanburg that his campaign, after a disappointing finish in the Iowa caucuses, was like the last stand at the Alamo. He cast Romney as an insider.
“We’ve got to have somebody that is an outsider that is not interested in tinkering around the edges — but that will go into Washington, DC, and overhaul that place,” he said.
Back in New Hampshire, Gingrich assailed Romney as a “Massachusetts moderate” and promoted a video being released by his allies that attacks Romney’s business career.
The Gingrich-leaning Winning Our Future PAC said on Sunday that a 28-minute online video — which assails Romney for “reaping massive awards” while head of Bain Capital — could show up on TV in the coming weeks.
Romney won the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday last week by just eight votes over Santorum, but is currently so far ahead in New Hampshire polls that his rivals have virtually conceded he will win.
South Carolina comes next, on Jan. 21, the first Southern state to hold a primary. Although it is the contest where Gingrich, Santorum and the rest of Romney’s rivals must do everything they can to slow his candidacy, Romney noted that he has been endorsed by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
Santorum finished second in Iowa, followed by Texas Representative Ron Paul, with Gingrich fourth, Perry fifth and Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann in last place. She has since quit the race.
Huntsman, skipped Iowa in the hopes of a breakout showing in New Hampshire.
He was mobbed at a coffee shop in Hampstead, where he stood on the counter to defend his past service in the Obama administration and assail Romney.
“I put my country first,” he said. “Apparently Mitt Romney does not believe in putting country first. He’s got this bumper sticker that says ... Believe in America. How can you believe in America when you’re not willing to serve America? That’s just phony nonsense.”