AMES, Iowa -- That’s the trouble with holding a meet-and-greet on the road out of town from Des Moines: It’s close enough for masses of national journalists to descend upon the trail.

At West Towne Pub in Ames, that’s exactly what happened to Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich. The small sports bar in a small strip mall alongside U.S. Route 30 was packed to the rafters -- with reporters, TV personalities and even an entire Fox News crew that produced a live, remote interview for its Sunday show. If there were 300 people in the restaurant, at least 200 were journalists.

(Associated Press)

Rank-and-file voters, meanwhile, were elbowed out of the way and stood in frustrated resignation as they watched their chances slip away for an actual word with Gingrich or even a clear shot from their camera phone.

There was no opportunity to actually hear Gingrich speak. But in an earlier chat with reporters after he attended mass at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines, Gingrich said he’s still looking ahead to South Carolina and Florida despite his flagging standing in Iowa. A new poll released Saturday by the Des Moines Register placed him in fourth place, at 12 percent, behind former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) and former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

At the church, Gingrich also criticized Romney for the volume of money being spent on his behalf -- and to attack Gingrich. He compared Romney to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), whom he has accused of “buying” his mayoral elections. When asked to elaborate, Gingrich said Romney “would buy the election if he could.”

Gingrich’s slap came just moments after he listened to a homily in which Bishop Richard Pates made a reference to all the negative ads on the Iowa airwaves in this final push before Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.