Romney’s campaign is unloading on Gingrich’s practice of pork-barrel spending in an attempt to drive a wedge between Gingrich, who is surging after two strong debate performances this week, and the Republican Party’s fiscal conservative base whose support he will need in Saturday’s critical South Carolina primary.
“While serving as speaker, Newt Gingrich created a tidal wave of earmarks that conservatives have been battling ever since,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. “Very simply, Speaker Gingrich played politics with taxpayer money. Now he’s trying to convince voters that he’s a fiscal conservative. Rick Perry put it best when he called Speaker Gingrich the ‘granddaddy of earmarks.’”
Perry, the Texas governor, withdrew from the presidential race on Thursday and endorsed Gingrich.
Members of Congress have long practiced earmarking, steering public money to pet projects in their home districts, but when Republicans took control of the House in 2011, they suspended the practice.
During Gingrich’s four years as speaker in the 1990s, total earmark spending increased by more than 30 percent while the number of projects receiving earmarks doubled to more than 6,000, according to data from the Congressional Research Service.
The Romney campaign deployed three House Republicans regarded as fiscal conservatives — Reps. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Jason Chaffetz (Utah) and John Campbell (Calif.) — to attack Gingrich’s earmarking in a conference call with reporters on Friday.
“The suggestion that he should be the leader of the free world and that he is the more conservative candidate does not hold water,” Chaffetz said.
Campbell added: “You can say that Newt Gingrich has played a significant part of the reason the budget has blown up, and the budget has gotten to such enormous deficits and enormous debt because of this earmark culture that began under his speakership.”
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond responded: “In the past 15 years there have only been two where the amount spent on earmarks dropped — both were under Gingrich.”
Last summer, when The Washington Post reported about Gingrich’s earmarking record, Gingrich’s then-spokesman Rick Tyler also had characterized it as a systemic problem not unique to Gingrich’s speakership. Tyler said earmarking “had grown completely totally out of control” and that Gingrich had called for a moratorium.
“The horse-trading that goes on in order to get members to vote the way leadership wants them to goes back to the Continental Congress,” Tyler said.