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GOP rivals target Romney ahead of N.H. primary

CONCORD, N.H. — Mitt Romney's Republican presidential rivals piled on the criticism Sunday, two days before New Hampshire's primary, with a combative Newt Gingrich leading the aggression by accusing the GOP front-runner of "pious baloney" and charging him with hiding behind inaccurate attack ads aired by allies.

In the increasingly acerbic nomination fight, Romney fired back at Gingrich during a morning debate: "This ain't beanbag .… we're going to describe the differences between us." By evening, Romney also had taken shots from Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry.

With time running short to curtail Romney in New Hampshire and perhaps elsewhere, his opponents started the day assailing him on the debate stage and ended it by doing the same in appearances across New Hampshire and South Carolina.

In South Carolina, Santorum trumpeted the endorsement of former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer.

Santorum alluded to Romney's position switches on a series of issues, saying: "We've got a lot of candidates that just adapt to whatever the environment is. … I don't, because the truth doesn't change."

Looking to revive his flagging candidacy, Perry also swooped into the Southern state. He told roughly 300 people at a packed burger joint in Spartanburg, S.C., that his campaign, after a disappointing finish in the Iowa caucuses, was like the last stand at the Alamo. He also assailed Romney, casting him as an insider and arguing: "We've got to have somebody that is an outsider that is not interested in tinkering around the edges — but that will go into Washington, D.C., and overhaul that place."

Back in New Hampshire, Gingrich assailed Romney as a "Massachusetts moderate" and promoted a video being released by his allies that attacks Romney's business career. The Gingrich-leaning Winning Our Future PAC said a 28-minute online video — which assails Romney for "reaping massive awards" while head of Bain Capital — may show up on TV in the coming weeks.

Romney won the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday by a scant eight votes over Santorum but is so far ahead in New Hampshire polls that his rivals have virtually conceded he will win.

South Carolina comes next, on Jan. 21, the first Southern state to hold a primary.

Santorum finished second in Iowa, followed by Ron Paul, with Gingrich fourth, Perry fifth and Michele Bachmann in last place. She has since quit the race.

Huntsman, the former Utah governor, skipped Iowa in hopes of a breakout showing in New Hampshire.

He was mobbed at a coffee shop in Hampstead on Sunday, where he stood on the counter to defend his past service in the Obama administration and assail Romney, saying: "I put my country first. Apparently Mitt Romney doesn't believe in putting country first. He's got this bumper sticker that says ... Believe in America. How can you believe in America when you're not willing to serve America? That's just phony nonsense."

GOP rivals target Romney ahead of N.H. primary 01/08/12 [Last modified: Sunday, January 8, 2012 10:37pm]
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