NEWBERRY, SC -- Just a couple of hours after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney launched his first attack against new Republican frontrunner Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker shot back at Romney following a town hall appearance here in South Carolina.
In an interview with Fox News, Romney called Gingrich a "life-long politician" and suggested that the winning GOP candidate must "have the credibility of understanding how the economy works, and I do." Romney's clear implication was that Gingrich does not.
As Romney's words were aired on Fox, Gingrich was addressing a town hall in Newberry, a performance in which Gingrich didn't mention his Republican opponents. But speaking in a relaxed setting at a restaurant across the square from the Newberry Opera House, where the town hall had been held, Gingrich had a few words for Romney.
"Let me just say, if attacked, I'm happy to clarify and defend myself," Gingrich said. "I have no need to attack Gov. Romney, because candidly, I'm happy to have the votes he doesn't have."
"If I can simply mobilize the -- " Gingrich said, pausing for a moment. "Assume that Ron Paul's votes are not gettable. That's ten [percent]. Assume that Romney has -- what do you want to give him, 25? I only want the 65. I'm not greedy."
Gingrich smiled as he said that, and then became more pointed in addressing Romney's suggestion that Gingrich doesn't understand how the economy works. "I would point out, as a matter of fact," Gingrich said, "having participated in the development of supply-side economics with [Jude] Wanniski and [Jack] Kemp, having campaigned with Reagan on it in '80, having helped pass it in '81, having gone through the recovery of the '80s and as speaker having had 11 million jobs created during the four years I was speaker, I may have some knowledge of the economy."
Gingrich has impressed Republican audiences with his policy of not attacking rival candidates. He scores points with crowds by saying that any of the GOP candidates on stage with him at debates would be a better president than Barack Obama. But now that Gingrich is leading the race, and attracting the criticism that goes along with being a frontrunner -- how can he avoid getting into fights? Gingrich said he is determined to stay on track.
"I'm going to, when necessary, answer in a positive way, based on fact, and keep being positive," he said. "It's like tonight. Did I mention a single one of my Republican friends? I'm happy. I only have one opponent -- the guy I'm going to beat next November."