IOWA CITY (AP) — His attacks growing ever more personal, Mitt Romney on Wednesday questioned chief rival Newt Gingrich's temperament, spending habits and allegiance to both the GOP and the middle class while hecklers confronted Gingrich in the lead-off caucus state.
During a series of interviews while fundraising in New York, Romney told one media outlet that "zany is not what we need in a president" and another that Gingrich had "an extraordinary lack of understanding of how the economy works." To yet another, Romney mocked Gingrich's past accounts at a tony jeweler, saying: "He's a wealthy man — a very wealthy man. If you have a half-a-million-dollar purchase from Tiffany's, you're not a middle-class American."
Romney's campaign also rolled out an Internet video describing Gingrich as an unreliable conservative and using a clip of a climate change ad that the former House speaker filmed with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
Gingrich, in turn, sought to stay above the fray.
"They should run their campaign the way they want to, and we're going to run our campaign the way we want to," Gingrich told reporters after an event at the University of Iowa.
During a speech on brain science research, Gingrich stuck to his usual campaign pitch and made no mention of Romney's charges. But the thrice-married Gingrich, who has admitted infidelity, faced criticism from his audience.
A handful of protesters drowned him out for at least three minutes, assailing Gingrich for what they called a "callous attitude toward poor people." He watched impassively from the podium in a university auditorium while the protesters shouted. But he couldn't resist responding when one person accused him of making millions of dollars on book deals and earning a "Ph.D. in cheating on your wives."
"Other than personal hostility, how would you know anything about how I publish my books?" Gingrich retorted.
The latest attacks from Romney — and the criticism from Iowans — come as the candidates prepare to square off Thursday at the final debate before the Jan. 3 caucuses and pressure increases on Romney, the one-time GOP front-runner, to curb Gingrich's rise. There's only one week for Romney to make his pitch — and tear down Gingrich — before many voters tune out over the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Much of the Iowa campaign is being waged on the air, with campaigns and their allied super PACs spending millions in TV advertisements this week alone. Meanwhile, campaigns are readying get-out-the-vote operations to ensure supporters turn out to precinct meetings on what's likely to be a frigid Midwestern winter weeknight.
Polls show most Iowans are undecided about which candidate to support or at least willing to change their minds, underscoring the volatility of the race.
For now, Gingrich, whose campaign imploded earlier this year, leads the field in Iowa surveys even as he races to build a campaign infrastructure. Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul trail him in surveys, while others — Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — are working to break through with aggressive face-to-face campaign efforts.
Romney's attacks — and his newfound willingness to talk with the media — continued to shape the race.
"Zany is great in a campaign. It's great on talk radio. It's great in print. It makes for fun reading," Romney told the New York Times in an interview. "But in terms of a president, we need a leader, and a leader needs to be someone who can bring Americans together."