Charlie Riedel, Associated Press
BEDFORD, N.H. — Sharpening his message ahead of voting in Iowa and New Hampshire, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on Tuesday attacked President Barack Obama as Newt Gingrich, his chief rival, accused Romney of running a "negative smear campaign" in the GOP primary.
"We will not surrender our dreams to the failures of this president. We are bigger than the misguided policies and weak leadership of one man. America is bigger than President Obama's failures," Romney said. "This America of long unemployment lines and small dreams is not the America you and I love. ... These troubled years are President Obama's legacy, but they are not our future."
Romney's allies escalated their negative ad campaign against Gingrich on Iowa airwaves as Romney accused Obama of deepening the economic crisis and backing policies that will redistribute wealth instead of creating equal opportunity for people to do well.
Romney, a former businessman, told voters in an evening speech that his policies would turn the U.S. into an "opportunity society" while Obama's vision for an "entitlement society" would make more people dependent on government welfare.
Romney said that Obama "believes that government should create equal outcomes. In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk."
Romney's message contrasts with the argument the Democratic president has begun to articulate for his re-election, in which he calls for a society that offers "fair play, a fair shot and a fair share." Obama argues that Republicans put the interests of the wealthy above the middle class.
"Giving more handouts to millionaires, billionaires and large corporations and making the middle class foot the bill are the same flawed policies that led to the economic crisis in the first place," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told New Hampshire reporters.
Restore Our Future, a special political action committee, or "super PAC," that backs Romney, launched a caustic ad tying Gingrich to Freddie Mac, the quasi-government mortgage company, and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. The spot also hits Gingrich for ethics violations and criticizes his record on abortion.
In Iowa, Gingrich accused Romney of allowing the super PAC to fuel a "negative smear campaign" and called on Romney to demand that ads run on his behalf by such groups be positive. Gingrich said Romney's comments aimed at distancing himself from the anti-Gingrich ads were misleading and false.
"Understand, these are his people running his ads, doing his dirty work while he pretends to be above it," Gingrich told reporters after a campaign appearance at a heavy machinery plant in Ottumwa, Iowa. "I don't object to being outspent. I object to lies. I object to negative smear campaigns."
During his remarks to about 100 people at the Al-Jon Manufacturing plant in eastern Iowa, one voter asked Gingrich about a political mailing he had received describing the former congressman as a globalist.
"I think these guys hire consultants who get drunk, sit around and write stupid ads," Gingrich replied. "Every one of these candidates should take responsibility for the lies they are putting up." He offered no evidence for his assertions.
Gingrich has pledged to remain "relentlessly positive" as he campaigns for the nomination and said Tuesday that he wasn't violating that promise but simply correcting the record.
Romney refused earlier Tuesday to disavow the group's ads, saying it would be illegal for him to coordinate with the super PAC. He did say that such groups are a "disaster" and have made a "mockery" of the presidential campaign.
"I'm not allowed to communicate with a super PAC in any way, shape or form," Romney said. "If we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the big house."
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