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Romney launches coordinated assault on Gingrich

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GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich appear in a Fox News debate on Dec. 3. Romney’s campaign has started a coordinated assault on Gingrich. This post was updated at 12:23 p.m.

DES MOINES — Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign launched a coordinated assault Thursday on former House speaker Newt Gingrich's leadership, temperament and commitment to a conservative agenda.

The Romney campaign deployed two top surrogates — former senator Jim Talent of Missouri, who served under Gingrich in the House, and former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, who worked with Gingrich as a White House chief of staff — to accuse Gingrich of “self-aggrandizement.”

In a conference call with reporters, Talent and Sununu said that Gingrich's comments earlier this year calling Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan “right-wing social engineering” were part of a pattern of statements over several decades that undercut the conservative agenda.

“The speaker’s running as a reliable and trusted conservative leader, and what we’re here to say with reluctance but clearly is that he’s not a reliable and trusted conservative leader because he’s not a reliable and trustworthy leader,” Talent said.

“Speaker Gingrich says interesting and insightful things,” Talent added. “He can explain them well on many occasions. He also says outrageous things that come from nowhere, and he has a tendency to say them at the exact time when they most undermine the conservative agenda.”

A Gingrich campaign spokesman predicted the attacks would backfire.

“We got to this point in our campaign by running a very positive, forward-looking campaign,” spokesman R.C. Hammond said. “The more we try to build America up, and our opponents try to tear each other down, the better our campaign does.”

A new Gingrich supporter, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), said in a statement earlier Thursday that, “Newt is a true conservative and a proven leader who has focused his campaign on the issues, presenting real solutions to the problems facing our country today."

Gingrich has surged in the polls. And, with just over three weeks until the caucuses here in Iowa kick off the nominating contest, the Romney campaign has calculated it must immediately begin attacking Gingrich and drawing contrasts between their records and leadership.

“This is a time for contrast, and contrast on the record, and that’s what we’re doing,” Talent said.

When asked by one reporter, Talent and Sununu declined to criticize Gingrich's personal behavior. But both of them zeroed in on Gingrich's criticism of Ryan’s plan in a “Meet the Press” interview on NBC News last spring.

“For Newt Gingrich, in an effort of self aggrandizement, to come out and throw a clever phrase that had no other purpose than to try to make him sound a little smarter than the conservative Republican leadership, to undercut Paul Ryan, is the most self-serving, anti-conservative thing one could imagine happening,” Sununu said Thursday. “He gave the liberals and the Democrats the ammunition they needed to moot, at least for the time being, Paul Ryan’s presentation.”

A few minutes later, in an interview on MSNBC's “Daily Rundown,” Sununu said: “I believe Newt Gingrich is a Gingrichite. All he cares about is Newt Gingrich.”

Staff writer Amy Gardner contributed to this report.

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