Gingrich rivals sense opportunity given that the race in Iowa is highly volatile. Most potential Iowa caucusgoers say they could still change their minds about whom to support; influential evangelical conservatives remain split, and voters here haven't yet been made fully aware of Gingrich's decades of personal and political baggage.
That's starting to change.
Iowans for Christian Leaders in Government, whose backers are unknown, wrote anonymously this week to the leader of a social conservative group in Iowa, The Family Leader, to urge it not to endorse Gingrich in light of his divorces and extramarital affair with the woman who is now his wife. The group also has circulated a new Web video that reminds Republicans that Gingrich once appeared with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to advocate action on climate change, a sore subject for some conservatives, and it circulated fliers earlier in the year condemning Gingrich for his two divorces.
It's not just outside groups.
Rivals, themselves, also now are differentiating themselves from Gingrich in ads — though not always overtly.
"I've been married to the same woman for 25 - excuse me, I'll get in trouble - for 42 years," Romney is shown saying in the new ad, airing in both Iowa and New Hampshire. "I've been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one company, Bain, for 25 years. And I left that to go off and help save the Olympic Games."
The spot doesn't mention Gingrich but makes the contrast by painting Romney as a strong family, church and business leader, compared with his chief rival — three times married, a Catholic convert and the former U.S. House speaker. Gingrich's divorces and fall from grace over ethics charges in Congress more than a decade ago still give some influential social conservatives in Iowa pause.
Gingrich spokesman R. C. Hammond declined to comment on the ad.
With little left to lose, Perry signaled he would compete aggressively for the same pool of voters Gingrich is wooing — Christian conservatives who make up the base of GOP primary voters in Iowa and elsewhere — launching a month-long, $1.2 million ad campaign in the leadoff caucus state.
"I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian," Perry says in a new ad. "But you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."
"As president, I'll end Obama's war on religion. And I'll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage," Perry adds. "Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again."
He rolled out the ad, his second focused on religion, ahead of bus tours in South Carolina on Thursday and Iowa on Sunday — two states filled with evangelicals and cultural conservatives.
Paul, for his part, put on TV a version of an Internet video that talks of "serial hypocrisy" and assails Gingrich on a host of fronts. They include the more than $1.5 million his consulting firm got from federally backed mortgage lender Freddie Mac, his joint call with Pelosi for congressional action to limit climate change and his past support for requiring that Americans obtain health insurance.
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Concord, N.H., contributed to this story.
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