DOVER, N.H. - Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich finally acknowledged on Monday what has been clear to everyone involved in modern politics: It's very hard to survive a negative attack ad, especially one that's done well, if you don't fire back.
Talking with reporters after a campaign event, Gingrich declined to condemn a highly negative ad that a super PAC backing his candidacy launched against GOP front-runner Mitt Romney Monday. The ad came in response to a blitz of advertising by a super PAC backing Romney, which helped to knock Gingrich from his first-place standing in the polls to a fourth place finish in last week's Iowa caucuses.
"This is not my first preference on how to run the campaign. As you know, I was having a great time being totally positive, talking about big ideas and big solutions and I would be glad to go back to that," Gingrich said. "But I don't think you ... I don't believe in unilateral disarmament and I don't believe that if the other person sets the standard of being very tough that you can back off or you look like you can't defend yourself. And whoever is going to end up competing against Barack Obama is going to have to be very tough."
When a reporter noted that Gingrich had promised to disavow any super PAC that ran negative ads in his behalf, he responded that he now will carve out an exception and respond to ads against him that are "inaccurate."
"It turns out that there are some things that if you describe them they're negative," he said. "I mean if you accurately describe some things they are negative - it's pretty hard to draw a distinction there in terms of accuracy. I would hope that it would focus on communicating the facts and I would encourage them to communicate the facts. The facts will speak for themselves, I think."
Pressed further on whether he was acknowledging that a wholly positive campaign doesn't work, Gingrich said, "It is an acknowledgment that if you are faced with somebody who is determined to be negative, you have to at least draw a sharp and clear contrast so people understand who the person is running the negative ads. You don't have any choice. And that's fine."
With a more level playing field, Ginrich said, "I expect to do well in South Carolina because as a Georgia conservative I think I know a great deal about how to campaign in South Carolina." He said also he plans to make an issue in the state of Romney's past support for gun control measures as governor of Massachusetts.
A super PAC allied with Gingrich called "Winning Our Future" is targeting the former Massachusetts governor as a corporate "raider" who headed an investment firm that orchestrated the layoffs of hundreds of workers, according to Rick Tyler, a senior adviser to the PAC who is a former top aide to Gingrich.
Gingrich's campaign standing plummeted after he was bombarded with $4 million in ads before the Iowa caucuses that were financed by "Restore our Future," a super PAC supporting Romney. Gingrich was was the target of over 40 percent of all negative advertising that aired in Iowa.
With Romney expected to win the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary is likely the last chance for Romney's rivals to halt his momentum toward the Republican nomination.
The tone of the ads is previewed in a trailer for a documentary called "King of Bain: When Mitt Romney Came to Town." The ads will be drawn from the film, which features poignant interviews with people who lost jobs at four companies bought and then later dissolved by Bain Capital over the years. "Mitt Romney, them guys, they don't care who I am" says one man in an interview highlighted in the film's preview. "I feel that is a man that destroyed us," one woman says of Romney.
The pro-Gingrich super PAC is being underwritten by a $5 million donation from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, according to The New York Times.
Romney's campaign has acknowledged that layoffs, while painful, are sometimes necessary for a company's economic health. They have said the candidate's focus now is on creating a robust economy in which companies can grow without having to resort to such measures.
"It's puzzling to see Speaker Gingrich and his supporters continue their attacks on free enterprise," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul wrote in an e-mail responding to the latest video. "This is the type of criticism we've come to expect from President Obama and his left-wing allies at Moveon.org. Unlike President Obama and Speaker Gingrich, Mitt Romney spent his career in business and knows what it will take to turn around our nation's bad economy."