December 21. 2011 10:17PM

Gingrich challenges Romney to meet in face-to-face session

By BETH LaMONTAGNE HALL
New Hampshire Union Leader


Callista and Newt Gingrich applaud a comment by New Hampshire Speaker of the House Bill O'Brien Wednesday afternoon at the Radisson in downtown Manchester. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)
MANCHESTER — Newt Gingrich downplayed attacks from his primary race rivals during a town hall meeting on Wednesday, but the former Speaker of the House didn't hesitate to fire back at Mitt Romney during a press conference about an hour later.

When asked if he could “stand the heat” not only from Romney but from Democrats in the general election, Gingrich challenged Romney to meet face to face.

“If he wants to test the kitchen, I'll meet him anywhere in Iowa, one-on-one, 90 minutes, no moderator, just a timekeeper,” said Gingrich. “We'll bring his ads, and he can defend them.”

“I don't think he wants to do anything except hide over here and pretend it's not his fault he's flooding the people of Iowa with falsehoods,” Gingrich said, referring to the large number of negative ads Romney's super PAC, Restore Our Future, has run against Gingrich. He said he can “take the heat plenty well,” Gingrich added, noting that he did so in the 1990s as speaker.

“I think I'll be just fine with the heat from Barack Obama, because quite frankly it'll be a fair exchange. He'll get a fair amount of heat in the process,” Gingrich said.

About 100 people came out to the Radisson Hotel on Elm Street to see Gingrich on Wednesday. He told the crowd that when serving as speaker he often turned to “the Reagan playbook,” which included cutting taxes and favoring policies for people who create jobs.

But Gingrich soon transitioned into criticizing Romney, without mentioning the former Massachusetts governor specifically.

“If (Iowans) see the same ad five times in an hour, they know who raised too much money,” Gingrich said. “We need to focus on the solutions that will get us out of trouble.”

Later, when he fielded questions from the audience, a man asked if Gingrich could get his message out despite negative press from the “mainstream media.”

“I've got to have a compelling message,” said Gingrich. He added that having the endorsement of the New Hampshire Union Leader “kind of undoes half of New York Times' damage.”

Gingrich addressed the payroll tax cut extension stalemate and sided with current House Speaker John Boehner and the push for a year-long extension. He also supported rejecting the Senate's two-month extension plan and laid blame squarely on Senate Democrats and Obama if the deal falls through.

“This is a Barack Obama, (Sen.) Harry Reid deliberately deceptive strategy,” said Gingrich. “All they have to do is bring the Senate back. What's the big deal about bringing the Senate back to Washington to do its job?”

Gingrich was joined on stage by his wife, Callista, and state Speaker of the House William O'Brien, who recently announced his endorsement of Gingrich.

During the town hall portion of the event, Gingrich took four questions, addressing issues such as health care and Social Security. Gingrich said he would push Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but would support the few positive aspects of the law, such as more funding for preventative care. He also supported offering young people a private Social Security option.

The town hall meeting had a healthy turnout of people who once lived in Massachusetts and Gingrich joked his campaign should hold a rally for “Massachusetts refugees.”

“We need a Massachusetts reminder rally so everyone can realize the choices they have in this primary,” Gingrich said.