ATLANTIC, Iowa -- A half-dozen voters decried negative campaign ads on Saturday at a town hall meeting with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, though voters admitted the ads targeting Gingrich have been successful at souring their impression of the candidate.
"You were doing so well in the polls here until these negative ads came out," said Eleanor Becker, an Atlantic resident who said she has supported Gingrich since the early 1990s. "But the negative ads make you think -- even me."
Gingrich enjoyed a surge of support in Iowa a couple weeks ago, but his supporters starting falling off when his rivals began running attack ads against him. The ads have forced Gingrich to play defense, and distracted him from his campaign, he said.
"The level of just sheer dishonesty in these ads, for me, it's -- well It took me two weeks for me to get reoriented," he said.
Another voter at the meeting told Gingrich that he dislikes negative advertising, but admitted the ads have been effective. Dozens of voters nodded their heads in near unison as he spoke.
Becker asked Gingrich to respond to an ad that showed him appearing in a global warming ad campaign with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. She also asked for Gingrich's "comeback" on an ad that raised questions about his consulting company's $1.6 million dollar contract with mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
'The Pelosi ad is easy, I was dumb," Gingrich said. "I made a mistake. I have no defense."
On the Freddie Mac charge, Gingrich also admitted fault -- not in his work with the company, but in how his campaign handled the charge in the ad.
"The Freddie Mac thing I think we mishandled," he said, adding that his campaign should have done a better job of defending his relationship with Freddie Mac. "I did not get 1.6 million dollars. My share annually was about $35,000."
Atlantic resident Neil Clark said Gingrich's responses restored his trust in the candidate. But he worried that Gingrich wouldn't be able to beat President Obama in the general election if he doesn't eventually go on the attack. Gingrich has pledged to run a positive-only campaign in response to the ads against him.
"This is the opening three minutes of the Super Bowl," Gingrich said. "We're learning a lot about what our opponents will do. They are nastier and more dishonest then i expected so we'll have to make some adjustments."
Gingrich did not clarify what those adjustments might be, and he continued with the Super Bowl theme.
"It's just exactly like the Super Bowl -- you see the opening series, you think about it, you figure out what you need to do next," he said. "It's going to be a very long game."