As GOP race's pace quickens, Romney's on top — and the target

By Steven Thomma and David Lightman

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 5 2012 12:12 a.m. MST

"Gov. Romney ran a largely negative campaign of falsehoods. ... The fact is three out of four Republicans rejected it," Gingrich told reporters in Concord. "He'll do fairly well here. But the fact is, Gov. Romney in the end has a very limited appeal in a conservative party."

Gingrich ridiculed Romney's Iowa win as weak, saying he barely improved his vote total from four years earlier despite four years of work and millions of dollars spent on TV.

"His additional 66 votes over 2008 came at a cost of about $100,000 a vote," he said — although a check of the final votes showed that Romney actually received six fewer votes in Iowa this year than he won there in 2008.

Romney, who appeared with two-time New Hampshire primary winner Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who endorsed Romney enthusiastically, did not directly address Gingrich's broadside. Romney aides said they were weighing how or whether to respond — though it's all but certain that Gingrich will pour it on in televised debates here Saturday and Sunday.

"Romney has nearly 100 percent name recognition in this state, and his approval ratings are high. These people have known him for years," said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire political veteran and senior adviser to Romney's campaign.

"It's a very hard case to make (against Romney) in this state," Rath said. "These people know his record, and they watched him grow."

He added, "Gingrich has had a rough time. A month ago, he thought he was the presumptive nominee. He's disappointed."

Gingrich also found himself targeted Wednesday by Paul.

The Texas congressman, who wants to pull U.S. troops back from overseas, accused Gingrich of being a "chicken hawk" who avoided military service himself but sends other people to fight now.

"You know, when Newt Gingrich was called to service in the 1960s during the Vietnam era, guess what he thought of danger? He chickened out on that and he got a deferment. He didn't even go," Paul said on CNN. "So right now he's sending these young kids over there to endure the danger, and the kids over there and the military overwhelmingly support my campaign."

"I had two children," Gingrich said in response. "I never called for a deferment because it was automatic."

((William Douglas of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.), (c)2012 the McClatchy Washington Bureau. Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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