Reporting from Plymouth, N.H. — Seeking to claw his way back into contention for the GOP presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich skittered around the snowy mountains of the North Country, blasting President Obama and GOP front-runner Mitt Romney and placating locals with assurances that as president he would thwart an energy proposal that would place eyesore transmitters along the region’s peaks.
Gingrich admonished Obama for making recess appointments, saying the president was acting as though he were “imperial,” that the appointments were unconstitutional because the Senate was not technically in recess and that Congress ought to withhold funding from affected agencies.
“The National Labor Relations Board now has a majority of members who were never confirmed by the U.S. Senate,” Gingrich said at a senior center here. “This is a clear violation of the spirit of the law, and Congress has an obligation to defend our rights, and the correct way is the power of the purse.”
He also unveiled a new ad that labels archrival Romney as “timid,” a statement that he backed up repeatedly at campaign stops, where he slammed the former Massachusetts governor for his healthcare law, past positions on abortion and gun control, and his judicial appointment history.
“I don’t believe a Massachusetts moderate is in a very good position to debate Barack Obama,” Gingrich said, adding that he was a true “Reagan conservative.”
Gingrich also prodded former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, but far more gently and only when prompted by a voter’s query. Gingrich said he had far greater experience than the former Pennsylvania senator, touting his work with the late President Reagan as well as his leadership role in creating 1994’s “Contract with America” and in gaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives that year.
“I’m not going to say anything negative about Rick – he’s a fine person,” Gingrich said. “If you look at the total level of experience, I think I am substantially more experienced than Rick is.”
The barnstorming came two days after the Iowa caucuses, which Romney won by eight votes over Santorum. Gingrich, once a front-runner, came in fourth after a barrage of negative advertising by Romney supporters.
In New Hampshire, which holds the first primary in the nation on Tuesday, Romney has a commanding lead with roughly 40% of the voters in recent polls, while Gingrich has one-quarter that support.
The former House speaker, speaking to reporters, emphasized that three-quarters of GOP voters did not support Romney in Iowa, and because delegates were being awarded proportionally in the coming contests, Romney does not have the nomination sewn up.
“He’s not going to be anywhere near getting enough votes per state to become the nominee,” Gingrich said. “We have a difference of opinion, you know, about which will be the last conservative standing, but I think eventually you’ll get down to one conservative and Gov. Romney and he’ll continue to get 25%. Now by definition, at some point in that game somebody else is going to start getting a lot more votes than Gov. Romney.”
Gingrich also catered to the locals here. He repeatedly weighed in on a controversial $1-billion plan to transport Canadian energy into the United States through unsightly transmitters in the area, which is popular with tourists. Gingrich said as president he would block the plan unless they moved the energy underground to avoid putting eyesores in the wilderness. And he called for a veterans’ medical center here so they don’t have to drive to Boston for care.
The most lighthearted moment of the day occurred in Lancaster, where he recalled a letter that his mother wrote him that began, “Dear Newty.” As the audience and press began tittering, Gingrich clarified that it was a sobriquet reserved for his wife and his mother.