GOP's Newt Gingrich relishes role of antagonist

By Thomas Beaumont

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 7 2011 12:02 a.m. MST

He also is working to turn his own perceived weaknesses into points of contrast with Obama. The Republican, for example, is facing criticism for supporting legal status for longtime, law-abiding illegal immigrants with community ties. But he didn't hesitate to assail the Obama administration for suing South Carolina over an immigration law.

"Here's a simple way to think of it: President Obama sided with Mexico. I would side with South Carolina," he said last week in Charleston, S.C.

Perhaps mindful that he can sometimes take his attacks too far, Gingrich is seeking to emphasize his softer side in his campaign advertisements. In his first TV commercial in Iowa, he promotes "working together" and "respecting one another" while making an upbeat call for unity.

Even so, his provocation of Obama thrills partisan audiences — at least the one last week at the Polk County Republicans' annual fundraiser in Johnston.

If he's the nominee, Gingrich said, he will invite Obama to debate seven times in the three-hour Lincoln-Douglas style and added, "How does a Columbia, Harvard law graduate, editor of the law review, greatest orator in the Democratic Party, look in the mirror and say he's afraid to stand on the same platform with a West Georgia College professor?"

And with that playful taunt, Gingrich had his audience.

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