DES MOINES, Iowa - Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the latest GOP presidential candidate to experience an uptick in poll numbers, on Monday attributed his success in part to running a "positive" campaign -- even as he cited the "deep discomfort" among Republican voters with rival Mitt Romney.
Gingrich was widely written off several months ago after an exodus of advisers from his campaign, but he has soldiered ahead on a shoestring budget compared with his rivals. A new CNN/ORC International poll shows him in a statistical tie with Romney, with 22 percent to the former Massachusetts governor's 24 percent.
"I have to say that I'm really humbled that millions of people watched the debates, and the general conclusion was that I have real substance and real solutions and that they prefer my approach of being positive to the kind of consultant-driven negativities that I think actually hurt the candidates who are negative," Gingrich said in Des Moines.
Gingrich also cited some conservatives' unhappiness with Romney, whom he called "a fine person and a very good manager," in an interview with Iowa Public Radio.
"There's a deep discomfort--you see it in the polling data," he said. "They were going to look for somebody. Early on, it might have been me, but I blew it; and so they were floundering around, and they went to a number of very nice people, each of whom had an opportunity to consolidate, and I'll let you decide why they didn't. But, gradually, during the fall with the debates, people began to come back and say well, gee, maybe we'd better give Newt a second look."
It remains to be seen, of course, whether voters reconsider Gingrich's controversial statements - he was chastised for referring to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's budget blueprint as "right-wing social engineering" - and his personal life, which includes two widely publicized divorces and his former line of credit at Tiffany's.
One of Gingrich's other rivals for the nomination, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, dismissed the resurgence of interest in Gingrich. "My feeling is that those national polls don't mean a whole lot," Santorum, who has been hoping to capitalize on other candidates' misfortunes without much success thus far, told CNN.
In a wide-ranging interview Monday night on Fox News, Gingrich sought to pre-emptively address some of the controversies that are likely to be raised about him in the days ahead:
- He refuted the widespread perception that he served divorce papers on his first wife, Jackie, while she was recovering from cancer surgery. He cited a column written earlier this year by their daughter, Jackie Gingrich Cushman, who said that the couple had decided to divorce prior to the surgery.
- He repeated his earlier apology for appearing with then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a 2008 ad to address climate change, calling it "probably the dumbest thing I've done in recent years." He said he strongly opposed "cap and trade" legislation aiming to curb greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming that passed the House in 2009 but failed in the Senate.
- He defended his support for a provision in the DREAM Act -- a measure aimed at helping children of illegal immigrants pay for college that is widely reviled by Republicans -- dealing with children of illegal immigrants who enroll in the military. "If you are a foreigner and join American military and serve honorably, it's a road to citizenship," he said.
- He also repeated his earlier denial that he had lobbied on behalf of beleaguered mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. "I have never been a lobbyist for anybody. I offer strategic advice," he said.
At the same time, Gingrich sought to downplay the stepped-up digging into his past. He noted that he has written 24 books, voted 7,200 times and delivered 15,000 speeches.
"The fact is, if you go through all that stuff, you're going to find plenty of things to throw at me," he said. "The question is, do the American people care? ... What people want to know is, do I have solutions for America? Am I tough enough to take the heat? We tried four years of inexperience and amateurism. Do I have the experience to get it done if I win?"
Gingrich also sought to highlight his ability to engage President Obama in a head-to-head exchange of ideas, saying, "There's a really deep sense [Republicans] want someone who can debate Obama, but they also want somebody who, if they get elected, can change Washington."
Rodney Hawkins contributed to this report.