Gingrich challenges Romney to Lincoln-Douglas-style debate in Iowa

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Republican White House hopeful Newt Gingrich.
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Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich
Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (left) and Republican White House hopeful Newt Gingrich (right).
Getty Images

Updated: 12:20 p.m. ET

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Wednesday challenged his top presidential rival Mitt Romney to a 90-minute, Lincoln-Douglas-style debate -- and charged that Romney's response to the challenge will signify whether or not "he likes the heat and wants to come in the kitchen," or whether he's "just another normal national politician."

With no more Republican debates before January 3 Iowa caucuses, Gingrich, who is campaigning in Virginia on Thursday, reiterated the challenge several times on Wednesday.

"I've challenged Governor Romney to meet me for ninety minutes in Iowa next week, anywhere, anytime," Gingrich said, speaking to a crowd of about 200 at a public rally in Arlington, Virginia. "Timekeeper. No moderator. And we will bring all of his negative ads and show them for free and he can explain them."

The two candidates spent the day trading barbs over who could better "take the heat" in this presidential race. Before Gingrich's debate challenge, Romney told MSNBC's Chuck Todd that "If you can't handle the heat in this little kitchen, the heat that's going to come from Obama's Hell's kitchen is going to be a heck of a lot hotter. We have to show that we, as a Republican Party, and as a candidate that we can stand up to the barrage that's going to come from the Obama world."

"We'll find out tomorrow whether he likes the heat and wants to come in the kitchen, or whether he is just another normal national politician with clever consultants and a lot of money and no willingness to stand up and tell the truth," Gingrich said, of the former Massachusetts governor.

The former House speaker, who has pledged not to go negative in his presidential campaign, has in recent weeks been targeted by a series of damaging television ads in Iowa. Earlier this week, Gingrich called on Romney to take down the negative ads, but Romney responded by saying that he is legally prohibited from communicating with super PACs acting on his behalf.

"I'm happy taking the heat, why doesn't he join me in the kitchen?" Gingrich repeated on Fox News late Wednesday.

In a radio interview with Bill Bennett Thursday morning, Gingrich conceded that Romney wasn't "excited about the idea yet."

But, he argued, "voters need to decided if that want a candidate whose willing to tell the truth of one whose willing to hide behind his millions of dollars."

So far, two candidates have met Gingrich's offers to go head-to-head in Lincoln-Douglas-style debates: Herman Cain, who has since dropped out of the race, and Jon Huntsman, who regularly polls in the single digits nationally.

When asked if he would take Gingrich up on his challenge, Romney Thursday said he was going to "respect the other candidates and the process" and stick with the official schedule.

"We've had quite a few debates already, as you may have noted," Romney said. I don't know -- 12, 13 debates, and had the chance to debate with Speaker Gingrich and others. I'm going to respect the other candidates and the process... I'm going to keep respecting others and keep debating on the schedule that we have."

Additional reporting by Sarah B. Boxer