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Expanded coverage: Transcript of the interview
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who trails former House Speaker Newt Gingrich by double digits in key early states, told The Washington Examiner on Wednesday that he believes he can still clinch the nomination by winning contests later in the primary calendar and by waiting for Gingrich’s newfound popularity to fade.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Examiner’s editorial board, the former Massachusetts governor said he couldn’t explain why his poll numbers have remained stagnant while a succession of other GOP candidates have surged ahead of him. But he predicts Gingrich, the latest to supercede him in the polls, will suffer the fate of the rest and eventually will fall behind him again. Romney admits, though, that the contest could stretch out for months.
“It’s not a process that will be over in a day,” Romney said. “We have Iowa and New Hampshire, but we also have South Carolina, Florida, Nevada, Colorado. I need to get about 1,100-plus delegates. So I expect to keep on campaigning through this process with the ups and downs. And while someone may go up temporarily, my experience is that I can’t guarantee that they’ll be down in a month, but I can guarantee that they’ll be down in three or four months and I just need to make sure that I’m getting the delegates at the time they are being awarded.”
Romney said he would make a better president than Gingrich because he is a consensus builder. He suggested that Gingrich is divisive and less able to lead.
“Transforming and turning around and leading major enterprises is what I’ve done throughout my life, and I have only been able to do that by bringing people together and engendering consensus — and that’s a characteristic of my past,” Romney said. “Speaker Gingrich has a very different past in terms of his leadership style and in terms of his life experience. I spent my life leading enterprises and as the head of two different businesses, head of an Olympics and as governor of a state.”
Romney defended the non-aggressive campaign style that he has practiced since entering the race and said with just weeks remaining until the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, he plans to be “much more visible.”
Some Republicans have criticized Romney for his low-key campaign and said it left him open to the string of other candidates like Gingrich who have sprinted past him in the polls.
“It had been our strategy that, as someone who was among the frontrunners, if I spent all my time on TV, people would tire of me,” Romney explained. “I could not be a new and interesting voice and it was wise to hold back and then come forward at a time when people are focused on the elections. So, you’ll see me a lot more than in the past.”
New poll numbers show Gingrich is well ahead of Romney in just about every key primary state except New Hampshire, where Romney holds onto a solid lead. Even in Colorado, where Romney was once expected to prevail, Gingrich now leads him 37 percent to 18 percent, according to a Public Policy Poll.
Later Wednesday morning, Romney spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition, arguing that his business experience makes him the best candidate to lead the country and distinguishes him from the other candidates.
“I’m not in this because I want to reach the next step in my political career,” Romney said, describing himself as “a creature of the private sector.”
“I’ve signed the front and back of a paycheck,” Romney told the crowd.
He criticized President Obama’s treatment of Israel and promised to visit the country on his first foreign trip as president.
“I will reaffirm as a vital national interest, Israel’s interest as a Jewish state, “ Romney said. “And I want the world to know the bonds that exist between Israel and the United States are unshakable.”
Romney warned that Obama would be tough to defeat because he is an incumbent.
“Our party must offer a candidate that can make the case for freedom, opportunity and strength,” Romney said. “Our nominee must offer Americans more that just a choice to vote against Barack Obama.”