Newt Gingrich and wife Callista arrive at the site of Saturday's Republican… (Jim Young / Reuters )
Reporting from Urbandale, Iowa — Republican presidential front-runner Newt Gingrich, the object of a harsh new attack ad by Mitt Romney supporters, said Saturday that he would actively work to discourage any effort by his backers who go negative on his GOP rivals.
The former House speaker, expected to receive heavy incoming fire in a televised debate Saturday night, reiterated his determination to run a positive primary campaign in remarks to supporters at his Iowa campaign office, several hours before the event.
Gingrich said he has no complaint with ads that compare his record with that of his opponents. "But there’s a big difference, and everybody intuitively knows it, between negative attack ads that are deliberately destructive and legitimate comparison ads," he said without referring explicitly to the ad made by the pro-Romney group.
"What we will not do is, we will not engage in negative ads. We will not engage in tearing people down. And if anybody does go out and create any kind of super PAC using my name, if they run any negative ads, we will attack them. And we will encourage people to give them no money," Gingrich said.
Super PACs exploit a loophole in federal election law that allows them to raise and spend unlimited amounts, so long as they don't strategize directly with the campaign they are supporting. A group of Romney backers, called Restore Our Future, has said it will spend $3.1 million on ads in Iowa. A 60-second negative ad by the group, which began airing Friday, details a "ton of baggage" related to Gingrich, including the $300,000 penalty he paid to settle an ethics complaint as speaker, his work as a highly paid Washington consultant for the mortgage company Freddie Mac and his support for climate change legislation in an ad he made with Democrat Nancy Pelosi.
Romney has yet to disavow the attack. “I don’t have any comment on anything that PACs are going to do or say,” Romney has told reporters.
The Gingrich camp, in a conference call with reporters on Friday evening, predicted that the negative attack from the Romney side would backfire.
"What we’re seeing from Mitt Romney and Boston is desperation and panic,” said Linda Upmeyer, a state lawmaker who chairs the Gingrich campaign in Iowa.