MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Trading accusations of greed, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich challenged each other yesterday to return millions made in private business as the race for the GOP presidential nomination turned increasingly acerbic and personal at the start of a three-week sprint to the Iowa caucuses.
Far from Iowa, they campaigned miles apart from each other in next-up New Hampshire, where Romney has long dominated in polls but where Gingrich is aggressively working to make inroads.
Romney called on Gingrich to return the estimated $1.6 million he received for providing strategic advice to Freddie Mac, the quasi-government agency that guarantees home mortgages. Gingrich has said he acted as a historian, not a lobbyist.
"That would make him the highest paid historian in history," Romney told Fox News Channel during an interview from the Chez Vachon diner, a regular New Hampshire stop for presidential candidates. He suggested that Gingrich was an ultimate insider who leveraged his position as a former House speaker to line his pockets when he left office.
Said Romney: "One of the things that I think people recognize in Washington is that people go there to serve the people and then they stay there to serve themselves."
Gingrich, campaigning in nearby Londonderry, countered quickly, saying Romney should give back the millions he made working at Bain Capital, a venture capital firm that sometimes laid people off as part of its efforts to make businesses more efficient.
"If Governor Romney would give back all the money he's earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over the years at Bain, then I would be glad to listen to him," Gingrich said. "But I bet you $10 -- not $10,000 -- that he won't take the offer." That was a dig at Romney's offer of a $10,000 wager with Rick Perry at Saturday night's debate. Unbowed, Romney chided Gingrich anew, saying: "There's a big difference between working in the private economy and working on K Street, and working as a lobbyist and working as a legislator, and working to connect businesses with government."
Meanwhile, an independent study says Gingrich's tax plan would provide breaks to the rich and blow a huge hole in the federal deficit. The Tax Policy Center said households making more than $1 million a year would see their taxes drop by an average of 62 percent. The study says federal tax revenue would drop by an estimated $850 billion in 2015 and worsen the budget deficit unless it is offset by unprecedented spending cuts.