Gingrich fights off rivals in Iowa debate

Updated: 2011-12-11 14:23


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DES MOINES, Iowa - Surging frontrunner Newt Gingrich fought off heavy attacks in a presidential debate in Iowa on Saturday from Republican rivals who portrayed him as a Washington insider and questioned his judgment.

Gingrich fights off rivals in Iowa debate 

Republican presidential candidate former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) makes a point during the Republican Party presidential candidates debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, December 10, 2011. [Photo/Agencies] 

Gingrich, portrayed by critics at times as rash and petulant, kept his cool as his Republican rivals criticized 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 Gingrich's background in Washington.

"We don't need folks who are lifetime Washington people," 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 like Gingrich.

But 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 Romney as out of touch with normal Americans in economic hard times.

It was the first debate since Gingrich roared past 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 criticized 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," Bachmann said.

Gingrich said he did not lobby for the housing giant but offered "strategic advice," and he shot back at Romney's criticism of him as a career politician.

"The only reason you didn't become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994," Gingrich told Romney, who lost a Senate bid in Massachusetts that year but later became governor. "It's a bit much, you'd have been a 17-year career politician now if you'd won."