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    Mitt Romney sharpens attacks on Newt Gingrich

    IOWA CITY - His attacks growing ever more personal, Mitt Romney yesterday questioned chief rival Newt Gingrich’s temperament, spending habits, and allegiance to both the GOP and the middle class while hecklers confronted Gingrich in the leadoff caucus state.

    During a series of interviews while fund-raising in New York, Romney told one media outlet that “zany is not what we need in a president’’ and tolf another that Gingrich had “an extraordinary lack of understanding of how the economy works.’’ To yet another, Romney mocked Gingrich’s past accounts at a tony jeweler, saying: “He’s a wealthy man - a very wealthy man. If you have a half-a-million-dollar purchase from Tiffany’s, you’re not a middle-class American.’’

    Romney’s campaign also rolled out an Internet video describing Gingrich as an unreliable conservative and using a clip of a climate change ad that the former House speaker filmed with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

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    Gingrich sought to stay above the fray. “They should run their campaign the way they want to and we’re going to run our campaign the way we want to,’’ Gingrich told reporters after an event at the University of Iowa.

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    During a speech on brain science research, Gingrich stuck to his usual campaign pitch and made no mention of Romney’s charges. But the thrice-married Gingrich, who has admitted infidelity, faced criticism from his audience.

    A handful of protesters drowned him out for at least three minutes, assailing Gingrich for what they called a “callous attitude toward poor people.’’

    The latest attacks from Romney - and the criticism from Iowans - come as the candidates prepare to square off tonight at the final debate before the Jan. 3 caucuses and pressure increases on Romney, who now trails his rival in polls, to curb Gingrich’s rise.

    — Associated Press

    Democrats may back off demand for taxing rich

    WASHINGTON - Democrats may jettison their demand for higher taxes on incomes over $1 million as part of legislation to extend payroll tax cuts for most Americans, officials said yesterday as President Obama and Congress struggled to clear critical year-end bills without triggering a partial government shutdown.

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    Republicans, too, signaled an eagerness to avoid gridlock and adjourn for the holidays. With a massive, $1 trillion funding bill blocked by Democrats, GOP lawmakers and aides floated the possibility of a backup measure to keep the government in operation for several days after the money runs out tomorrow night.

    It all comes at the close of a year of divided government - with a Tea Party-flavored majority in the House and Obama’s allies in the Senate - that has veered from near-catastrophe to last-minute compromise repeatedly since January.

    At issue now are two year-end bills that Obama and leaders in both parties in Congress say they want. One would extend expiring payroll tax cuts and benefits for the long-term unemployed, provisions at the heart of Obama’s jobs program. Another is the $1 trillion spending measure that would lock in cuts that Republicans won earlier in the year.

    Democrats had made the proposed tax on income over $1 million central to their plan for the payroll tax cut extension, and officials stressed that no decision had been made on whether to drop it.

    — Associated Press

    Granite State uphill climb for Gingrich, poll suggests

    Despite his new status as leader in polls in the Republican presidential race, former House speaker Newt Gingrich will have a difficult time catching up with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, according to a Suffolk University/7NEWS poll.

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    The poll also suggests that former Utah governor Jon Huntsman - who has staked his campaign on a strong performance in New Hampshire - is finally seeing results from his hard-fought ground campaign.

    The poll of likely voters in New Hampshire’s Jan. 10 primary found Romney maintaining a strong lead with 38 percent of the vote, followed by Gingrich at 20 percent, Huntsman at 13 percent, and congressman Ron Paul of Texas at 8 percent. All other candidates were below 3 percent. Only 11 percent of voters polled said they were undecided.

    Romney’s lead has dropped - from 27 points in mid-November to 18 points now. But winning New Hampshire would still be a “daunting task’’ for Gingrich, said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which conducted the poll. “A lot of things would have to fall perfectly for Gingrich, and even if he won all of the 11 percent undecided . . . he’d still trail by 7 points,’’ Paleologos said.

    Voters are not likely to swing from Romney toward Gingrich. Romney had the most loyal cadre of supporters - 58 percent said they were unlikely to change their minds. Gingrich could gain some votes if Paul loses support, based on the poll’s question on the respondents’ second choices, according to Paleologos. But if Huntsman loses support, those voters would swing more heavily toward Romney.

    — Shira Shoenberg