Gingrich faces down heavy criticism


Frontrunner Newt Gingrich fought off heavy attacks in a presidential debate in Iowa last night from Republican rivals who portrayed him as a Washington insider and questioned his judgment.

Mr Gingrich, described by some critics as rash and petulant, kept his cool as his Republican rivals criticised him for making up to $1.6 million from housing giant Freddie Mac, for saying Palestinians were an "invented" people and for his troubled marital past.

Mitt Romney, the former frontrunner and once the presumed nominee, contrasted his business experience with Mr Gingrich's background in Washington.

"We don't need folks who are lifetime Washington people," Mr Romney said, adding his time as head of a private equity firm helped him understand how to turn around the economy and made him more electable than a Washington politician.

But Mr Romney may have hurt himself by challenging Texas Governor Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet over healthcare in a quip that drew criticism of him as out of touch with normal Americans in economic hard times.

It was the first debate since Mr Gingrich roared past Mr Romney to take a big lead in polls in the Republican battle to pick a 2012 challenger to President Barack Obama, and the other candidates were quick to attack.

US representatives Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul criticised Mr Gingrich as a hypocrite who profited from his contacts and wound up taking taxpayer money when Freddie Mac was bailed out by the federal government.

"When you're taking money to influence the outcome of legislation, that's the epitome of establishment," Ms Bachmann said.

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