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GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is accusing his Republican opponents of what he says is reprehensible behavior: attack ads running against the former speaker in Iowa. Last night Gingrich held a town hall meeting just outside of Cedar Rapids. NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.
KATHY LOHR, BYLINE: Before a crowd of supporters on a chilly night in Hiawatha, Gingrich stressed that the negative GOP attack ads are bad for the party and bad for voters.
NEWT GINGRICH: If there's anything I have found saddening, but not shocking but saddening, about this campaign, it has been the weight of totally negative campaigning by people who apparently have nothing positive to offer.
LOHR: The ads certainly have been bad for Gingrich, who has seen his support decline and his frontrunner status disappear in this state. Texas Congressman Ron Paul, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney have all been targeting Gingrich. This ad was paid for by a group called Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super-PAC.
(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION AD)
LOHR: The former speaker is fighting back, not with negative ads of his own, but by urging his supporters to ask their friends to deliver a message to his GOP rivals.
GINGRICH: Ask them, if they run into one of these candidates, to tell them they ought to be ashamed of themselves. They ought to take this junk off the air.
LOHR: Gingrich admitted the negative ads have affected his numbers here. He said if you're targeted for a few days without answering the attacks, your numbers will drop. Most voters at this town hall are supporting the former Georgia congressman. Bart Gingrich, no relation to Newt, is a farmer and says he works at a car dealership near Cedar Rapids. He says he understands why the ads are eroding some support.
BART GINGRICH: You know, there's a lot of people out there that just watch a little bit of TV, little tidbits. They don't watch the whole thing. They don't get the whole speech. So it hurts. They know what they are doing. But it's a travesty that they keep playing them over and over again.
LOHR: He says Republicans should quit beating up each other and focus instead on the president, as Gingrich is doing.
B. GINGRICH: I love the way he's going at it. I mean it's very positive. It's "let's beat Obama." That's key. That's important.
LOHR: Another supporter, Kathy Hulse, who's a retired nurse, says she's also tired of the negative campaigning.
KELLY HULSE: It's just, you know, like cat and dogs fighting. That's not what we're wanting to hear. We want to hear what they stand for. Well, how are they going to help this country is what we want to hear. We don't want to hear the negativism.
LOHR: To combat the attacks, Gingrich plans to hold daily teleconferences, where he says anyone will be able to get questions answered. He's also planning a 44-stop bus tour through the state after Christmas, and he says he won't launch any attack ads of his own.
GINGRICH: And my only request to the people of Iowa is when you get ready to vote in two weeks, ask yourself do you really want to reward politics as usual, negativity as usual, attack as usual, consultant as usual, fundraising from Wall Street millionaires as usual, or do you want to vote for the only person who has consistently, steadily been positive for the entire campaign.
LOHR: Gingrich doesn't have the money to run the number of ads that some of the other GOP candidates can. And he admits some of his opponents' campaigns are better organized. With more attack ads looming, Gingrich says his challenge is to answer the questions being raised and get his support organized before the caucuses take place in just two short weeks.
Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Hiawatha, Iowa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.