Mitt Romney aggressively criticized rival Newt Gingrich on Tuesday, calling the former House speaker a "lifelong politician" and questioning Gingrich's ability to fix the country's struggling economy.
Romney, speaking a day after Gingrich criticized him during a campaign stop in South Carolina, told Fox News that Gingrich wasn't as likely to beat President Barack Obama in a general election.
"I think to get President Obama out of office, you're going to have to bring something to the race that's different than what he brings. He's a lifelong politician," Romney said of Gingrich. "I think you have to have the credibility of understanding how the economy works. And I do."
Throughout the campaign, Romney has emphasized his business experience over his political tenure as governor of Massachusetts.
"I think I stand, by far, the best shot of replacing President Obama among the Republicans in the field," Romney said Monday.
Romney has rarely had such harsh words for any of his many Republican rivals, largely choosing instead to attack Obama, stay above the primary fray and frame himself instead as the likely nominee. His pointed criticism illustrates how seriously he is taking Gingrich's recent rise as the main conservative alternative to Romney in the race.
Gingrich had harsh criticism for Romney on Monday. In South Carolina, he called himself "a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney and a lot more electable than anybody else."
"It's wrong to go around and adopt radically different positions based on your need of any one election, then people will have to ask themselves, `What will you tell me next time?'" Gingrich said in a slap at Romney's history of changing positions on issues.
Romney defended himself against that charge in his Tuesday interview with Fox. "Your list is just not accurate," Romney said when asked by anchor Bret Baier about changing his stances on climate change, abortion, gay rights and immigration. "So, one, we're going to have to be better informed about my views on issues."
Romney relied instead on a character argument to defend his record. "You can look at a person who has devoted his life to his family, to his faith, to his country," he said, a line he used in a presidential debate.
That, too, is a subtle criticism of Gingrich: the former House speaker had an extramarital affair and has been married three times.
The primary, so far, has seen a series of conservatives _ Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain _ jump ahead in polls only to fade after mistakes or, in Cain's case, allegations of sexual harassment and an extramarital affair.
At the end of a stop at the port in Tampa, Romney ignored shouted queries from reporters, instead insisting that he holds regular news conferences.
"You guys, we have press avails and press conferences almost every day, and that's when I answer the questions," Romney said. "When I'm meeting people, it's not a good time to answer questions that are important and require good attention and a thorough answer."
The last time Romney took questions from a group of reporters was last Wednesday in Des Moines.