AdWatch: Romney's 1st negative ad targets Gingrich

AP News
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Posted: Jan 23, 2012 4:29 PM
AdWatch: Romney's 1st negative ad targets Gingrich

TITLE: "Florida Families."

LENGTH: 30 seconds.

AIRING: On broadcast and cable stations in Florida.

KEY IMAGES: Grainy black and white photos of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in various poses against ominous music familiar in campaign attack ads. The pictures are punctuated with sound effects _ the sound of a typewriter typing as text scrolls across the screen, a cash register's "ka-ching!" as a narrator says Gingrich "cashed in" by working for Freddie Mac.

"While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in," the narrator says. "Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis." In a video clip, Gingrich says of his time at Freddie Mac: "And I offered advice. And my advice as a historian."

The narrator resumes: "An historian. Really? Sanctioned for ethics violations. Resigned In disgrace. And then cashed in as a D.C. insider."

A final image of Gingrich is juxtaposed with an image of President Barack Obama smiling broadly. "If Newt wins, this guy would be very happy," the narrator says.

ANALYSIS: Shorn of his front-runner image after a defeat by Gingrich in the South Carolina primary, Romney is campaigning for next week's vote in Florida with a full frontal attack on his main rival. This is the first harshly negative ad put up by Romney's campaign and it packs a number of attacks on the former House speaker.

The ad seeks to chip away at a central tenet of Gingrich's campaign _ that he is an insurgent and an outsider. In South Carolina, Gingrich used populist rhetoric and attacks on so-called elites. Romney's ad casts Gingrich as part of the elite, noting his high pay from Freddie Mac and contending his long congressional tenure makes him a "D.C. insider."

On the specific charges, Romney's ad is short on nuance. Gingrich did receive $1.6 million from government-backed mortgage lender Freddie Mac, blamed as one of the causes of the nation's housing crisis because it issued high-risk loans. But Freddie Mac was hardly the sole cause of the housing collapse. And it is difficult to lay the entirety of Florida's foreclosures at the doorstep of the lender, let alone Gingrich.

While speaker, Gingrich was sanctioned for ethics violations. But his resignation as House speaker had less to do with disgrace than political realities. After jostling with President Bill Clinton for four years, including marshaling the House effort to impeach Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Gingrich lost sway over his caucus. When Republicans dropped more seats than expected during midterm elections in 1998, he resigned rather than face an insurrection.

Since leaving the House, Gingrich has remained in Washington and taken on a number of jobs where his influence and former perch have been helpful.

The Romney campaign's injection of Obama at the end of "Florida Families" pushes another line of attack, that Gingrich is unelectable and Democrats would much rather run against him. That's far from clear, and exit polls in South Carolina showed that voters whose top priority is beating Obama overwhelmingly voted for Gingrich.

The ad is a signal that Romney is entering a new phase of his campaign, one where he'll take on his GOP opponents more directly. Through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Romney had limited his intra-party sparring, preferring to focus on Obama.

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Follow Henry C. Jackson on Twitter: (at)hjacksonap