For the first time in the campaign, Mitt Romney is attacking Newt Gingrich, zeroing in on the former House speaker's years in Washington.
"He and I have very different backgrounds. He spent his last thirty or forty years in Washington, I spent my career in the private sector. I think that's what the country needs right now," Romney told interviewer Bret Baier on Tuesday in a sometimes testy interview on Fox News.
In fact, Gingrich served nearly 20 years in Congress, and since leaving in 1998 has based himself largely in the nation's capital. Romney likes to focus voters on his work as a founder of Bain Capital, but he is hardly a novice to politics: He ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., in 1994, served as the Bay State's governor from 2003-2007, and ran unsuccessfully for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008.
Tacitly confirming Gingrich's status as his chief rival, Romney took an aggressive tone when Baier asked about the influential New Hampshire Union Leader's decision to endorse Gingrich over him in a state where Romney is a near favorite son.
"No problem with Newt Gingrich. Good man, but very different person than I am based on our life experiences," Romney said.
When Baier asked if Romney thought Gingrich can beat President Obama, the former governor said "I think I stand by far the best shot at defeating President Obama," and going on to point out why Gingrich is the weaker candidate.
"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," Romney said. " He's a lifelong politician. I think you have to have the credibility of understanding how the economy works."
Romney also attacked Gingrich on immigration, a hot button issue with the conservative constituency that the former House speaker is counting on.
In a debate last week, Gingrich argued in favor of allowing some illegal immigrants with established roots in the country a chance to stay. "If he [Gingrich] is going to do what I believe he said he was going to do for those people who would be allowed to stay permanently and become citizens, that would be providing for them a form of amnesty," Romney said.
The former Bay State governor argued that people who illegally entered the country should not be given any special privileges above others waiting to immigrate and become U.S. citizens.
During the interview interactions between Baier and Romney seemed increasingly tense. At one point when Baier asked if he still supported a mandate for individuals to buy health insurance, Romney shifted in his chair and responded "Bret, I don't know how many times I've said this too. This is an unusual interview."
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney enacted a law that requires citizens of the state to buy health insurance. Obama has called the Massachusetts law a model for the health care law he signed - a law that Republican presidential candidates, including Romney, say they want to repeal. Romney has said he does not believe an insurance mandate is appropriate for a national health care plan.
After expressing his exasperation to Baier, Romney laughed, shifted in his chair again, crossed his legs, and said: "All right, let's do it again. Absolutely, what we did in Massachusetts was right for Massachusetts. I've said that time and time again."