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Romney: If Newt can't take the heat, how can he beat Obama?

Mitt Romney suggested Wednesday that if Newt Gingrich can't handle negative ads against him in a Republican primary, then he may not be prepared for the "barrage" that will come in a general election against President Obama.

Gingrich has aggressively criticized Romney over attack ads from a pro-Romney super PAC that suggest Gingrich has too much "baggage" to win in a general election. (Watch at left.) Polls suggest the spots have damaged Gingrich's standing in the first-in-the-nation voting state of Iowa.

"This is politics," Romney said on Fox News Wednesday. "And if you can't stand the heat in this little kitchen, wait until the Obama hell's kitchen turns up the heat." He reiterated that point on MSNBC, saying "the heat that's going to come from Obama's hell's kitchen will be a heck of a lot hotter."

"We need to show, as Republicans, that we can stand up to the barrage that's going to come from the Obama world," said the former Massachusetts governor, who argued "there's nothing that any of these ads by any of the candidates are showing about Speaker Gingrich that President Obama would not put out."

Gingrich has called for Romney to get the ads off the air, something Romney said he can't do because of legal restrictions on coordination between super PACs and campaigns. "If we coordinate in any way whatsoever, we go to the big house," he said Tuesday. (Gingrich deems that claim "baloney.") If the ads don't come off the air, Gingrich said, "it will be clear that Mitt Romney will have failed totally as a leader and will just be one more politician." 

Gingrich has started a petition calling on his rivals to stop running attack ads that reads in part, "Attacking fellow Republicans only helps one person: Barack Obama." In Iowa Tuesday, he called it "sad" that "some of these guys don't have any idea how much damage they're potentially doing to our team."

Gingrich maintains that Romney can demand the super PAC ads be positive, noting that the group is staffed by Romney's associates. (That's not uncommon: A super PAC backing Gingrich recently added its second former Gingrich staffer.) The former House Speaker says that Romney is having the super PAC do "his dirty work while he pretends to be above it." The Gingrich campaign maintains many of the claims in the spot above are false.

Special report: Election 2012