Struggling to reverse a slide in his standing, Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich said Sunday he'd been "Romney-boated" in Iowa and suggested his GOP rival would buy the presidency if he could.
The sharp words against Mitt Romney, a multimillionaire many times over who is in strong contention to win Iowa, come two days before voters here weigh in on the Republican field. It was part of a stepped-up effort by Gingrich to contrast himself with Romney, and the candidate said he would adopt an even more aggressive strategy when the race moves to New Hampshire, the former Massachusetts governor's backyard.
Gingrich's nautical attack was a reference to a 2004 TV ad campaign by a group called the "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth" that bloodied Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. This year, Gingrich has faced an onslaught of negative TV advertisements by a group aligned with Romney.
Asked Sunday whether he felt that he had been "swiftboated," Gingrich replied, "I feel Romney-boated."
It was his second swipe of the day at the Republican frontrunner.
Speaking to reporters after attending morning Mass at the St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines, Gingrich said the amount Romney will eventually spend on his various campaigns will rival the spending of billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has poured at least $261 million of his own money into his mayoral campaigns.
"Romney would buy the election if he could," Gingrich said.
A new Des Moines Register poll put Gingrich in fourth place, after leading the field a few weeks ago.
Gingrich, who has pledged to run a positive campaign, sought to make up ground by attacking Romney _ and promised more to come.
Even as he attacked Romney, Gingrich insisted he would not go negative _ which he defined as distortions and lies _ but would work to correct misleading charges against himself and draw a clearer contrast with Romney. He said a counter-offensive would probably include television ads.
"New Hampshire is the perfect state to have a debate over Romneycare and to have a debate about tax-paid abortions, which he signed, and to have a debate about putting Planned Parenthood on a government board, which he signed. And to have a debate about appointing liberal judges, which he did," Gingrich told reporters at a stop in Marshalltown.
"And so I think New Hampshire is a good place to start the debate for South Carolina."
"Romneycare" is what critics call Massachusetts' 2006 health care overhaul, which Romney signed into law and which served as a template for the national health care overhaul under President Barack Obama that conservatives detest.
Gingrich ignored the fact that in the past he has advocated for coverage mandates that are included in both overhauls.
Unlike some Republicans who are making a beeline for South Carolina, Gingrich said he would campaign in New Hampshire.
At his final event Sunday, in Waterloo, Iowa, Gingrich was asked what his greatest weakness was.
"It's probably that I'm too reasonable," Gingrich replied. "And I should've responded to the negative ads sooner."
Follow Shannon McCaffrey at www.twitter.com/smccaffrey13