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Mitt Romney steps up media offensive, will appear for first time on Fox Sunday show

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Sensing the very real threat from the right posed by the surging candidacy of Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney is set to engage in a media offensive.

The media-shy Romney, who has all but avoided interviews with most print and television media outlets, is set to star as Fox News’ Chris Wallace’s sole guest on Dec. 18, a mere two weeks before the all-important Iowa caucuses — but he says he will skip the GOP debate moderated by Donald Trump.

Jim Cole

AP

Mitt Romney, speaks to supporters and volunteers during a rally in Manchester, N.H.

Wallace has been hammering Romney for being a no-show as he hasn’t been a guest on his set or on and Sunday show since March 2010. Meanwhile, Wallace has already interviewed every other major Republican candidate, in some cases twice.

On Tuesday afternoon, Romney appeared with Neil Cavuto on Fox, where he talked about his new strategy.

“That’s what happens towards the end of a campaign, as you know Neil. You’re going to see us going up on the air with ads. We just began those and we’re doing that because the elections getting close, so it’s time for our closing argument and I’m making the closing argument to the American people,” he said.

“You’re going to see me all over the country, particularly in early primary states. I’ll be on TV, I’ll be on FOX a lot because you guys matter when it comes to Republican primary voters. I want them to hear my message and have an opportunity to make their choice.”

Of course, Romney’s acceptance of invitations to appear on Fox, which appeals to a more conservative audience, don’t show a more general comfort with the media machine at large. It’s unclear whether the ex-Masschusetts governor has booked other appearances with media personalities and networks, let alone print reporters, that may be less friendly.

Romney said on Fox that he has declined an invitation to appear at a Donald Trump-moderated debate on Newsmax in late December, explaining that he would be too busy campaigning.

Meanwhile, Gingrich, who has risen to the top in the polls largely on the basis of his strong debate performances, has agreed to the appear.

Romney’s media move also comes as polls show him lagging behind Gingrich in Iowa and South Carolina, key early voting states with large conservative voting blocs. That may be why he has chosen Fox, with its large conservative audience, as his chief media inquisitor.

But even if Fox is seen as generally softer on Republicans, Romney still faced a barrage of criticism for an interview last week with Fox News’ Bret Baier for appearing testy and ruffled by questions about his record.

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And in many ways, the former Massachusetts governor seemed annoyed by and unprepared for basic questions about his positions on several issues, like a health-care mandate and abortion rights. Baier suggested that Romney had flip-flopped, which shouldn’t have caught Romney off-guard since Democrats, and his GOP foes, have been arguing that it’s the candidate’s main vulnerability ever since he’s been running for president.

“Your list is just not accurate,” said Romney to Baier, noting at one point that the interview was unusual. “We’re going to have to be better informed about my views on issues.”

Romney later complained to Baier, who draws nearly two million viewers a night, that the interview was “overly aggressive” and “uncalled for.”

Baier said that Romney refused to appear on set for the “center seat” segment, as other candidates have done, agreeing instead to a one-on-one with questions from Fox regulars.

In contrast to Romney, Gingrich, has appeared on a variety of Fox News programs, and Tuesday morning he sat down with Glenn Beck.

And on the stump, Gingrich has also been more accessible to reporters. On Monday, he held a press conference in New York.

In contrast, Romney rarely responds to reporters’ questions while he is on the stump, and aides have been known to ignore e-mails and fail to return phone calls.

Asked about the apparent shift in strategy, a Romney aide did not respond to an e-mail, but on the stump in Arizona Tuesday, where he scooped up an endorsement by former Vice President Dan Quayle, Romney had a press avail with campaign reporters.

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