DES MOINES, Iowa — Republican White House hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, running neck and neck in national polls, scoured key early-voting states for support Tuesday in a pre-Christmas rush of politicking.
Romney, looking for a crushing victory in New Hampshire’s January 10 primary, was to launch a three-day bus tour of the northeastern state with a rhetorical blast at President Barack Obama’s economic policies.
“President Obama’s idea of bringing us together is not to lift us up but instead to use the invisible boot of government to bring us all down,” the former Massachusetts governor said in excerpts of his kick-off speech.
Gingrich, aiming to eke out a win in Iowa’s January 3 caucus, criss-crossed the heartland state declaring himself the most equal to the task of battling the Democratic incumbent in the November 2012 elections.
The former House speaker, no stranger to blunt or even brash talk, got a little jolt at Hy-Vee grocery store event with supporters when one young woman called out his confident predictions of victory as “presumptuous.”
Jenny Turner, 31, highlighted Gingrich’s declaration in an interview with ABC television that he would win the Republican nomination to take on Obama and said: “I’ve been a big fan but that felt a little bit presumptuous.”
The ex-lawmaker, seemingly chastened, replied that “the truth is, this will be decided by the American people. This will not be decided by any one person and that’s what I should of said, and I wasn’t very clever.”
“I will make mistakes, I have made mistakes, when I make mistakes I’ll say to you, ‘that was a boo-boo,'” said Gingrich, who recently surged to frontrunner status but has seen his poll numbers erode sharply under a furious barrage of negative advertisements from his rivals.
His remarks came as a new Washington Post/ABC national survey of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents found him and Romney each at 30 percent support, with Representative Ron Paul coming in third with 15 percent.
No other Republican candidate scored double figures in the poll, which also gave President Barack Obama his best rating since March — other than a short spike in appeal after the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Although national polls are considered a reasonable barometer of US voter mood, they are not necessarily reliable in predicting the outcome of a presidential race because the American election is a state-by-state affair.
The Washington Post/ABC poll said that although most Americans disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy, the number who disagreed with his overall performance had fallen below 50 percent.
A separate CNN/Opinion research national poll on Monday also had Romney and Gingrich deadlocked at 28 percent support among Republicans, with Paul (14 percent) again in third place.
On Monday, Gingrich ripped his rivals’ attacks ads and pleaded with his supporters in Iowa to confront the candidates looking to tear down his White House aspirations.
“The next time you see one of the candidates who’s running the negative ads, ask them to take it off the air,” he implored some 200 people packed into the warehouse-like space of a clothing maker in Hiawatha, Iowa, on Monday.
Asked about a brutal campaign against him by the independent “Restore Our Future” group aligned with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Gingrich replied: “If you see Romney, ask him to take them off the air.”
At an earlier stop in Davenport, Gingrich bemoaned that other candidates for the Republican Party’s nomination were blasting “so much negative junk” to tear him down that they were “in effect doing Barack Obama’s work.”
His support here has dropped by nearly half over two weeks, from 27 percent to 14 percent among likely caucus-goers, dropping him from first place to third behind second-place Romney and Paul, who leads here.