Romney's changing positions cause anger
Washington - Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney found himself coming under fire on Monday for his changing positions on key policy issues from both his main challenger for the party's nomination and Democrats supporting President Barack Obama.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose presidential campaign is on the rise just weeks before the first nominating contests take place, offered a sharp criticism of Romney.
Gingrich acknowledged that he isn't the perfect candidate but insisted he's "a lot more conservative than Mitt Romney and a lot more electable than anybody else".
For months, Gingrich has refused to criticise his Republican presidential rivals and instead has focused his criticism on Obama.
Changing his tune
But now, Gingrish has branded the former Massachusetts governor as a political opportunist, saying it is one thing to change positions if new facts become available and quite another to shift positions for political gain.
"It's wrong to go around and adopt radically different positions based on your need of any one election, then people will have to ask themselves, 'What will you tell me next time?' " Gingrich told WSC-FM radio Monday morning ahead of a three-day campaign swing through South Carolina.
In a career that includes an unsuccessful Senate race and one term as governor in Massachusetts, plus a 2008 presidential bid, Romney at times has favoured legalised abortion, a ban on assault weapons and a pathway to legal status for some illegal immigrants.
He since has rejected those views. He also takes a harder line than before on government stimulus programmes and bank bailouts.
Romney's health care initiative in Massachusetts required residents to obtain medical insurance, but he rejects the notion that it was a model for Obama's national health care reform plan enacted last year over vehement Republican opposition.
Over the years, Romney has minimised the significance of some of his shifts. He attributes others to heartfelt changes of opinion.
It isn't enough to convince some, including Gingrich.
"We think there has to be a solid conservative alternative to Mitt Romney," Gingrich said.
Romney also came under attack from the Democratic National Committee which on Monday began running ads mocking the former Massachusetts governor - a sign they view him as Obama's most likely opponent.
Tim Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor who endorsed Romney after dropping his own presidential bid this year, said Obama has failed to create jobs or reduce the federal debt. "This administration does not want to campaign against Mitt Romney and be forced to defend three years of failure," Pawlenty said.
Gingrich’s star rising
The Democrats' strategy assumes Romney will emerge as the nominee, even though polls show him struggling to lock down the support of more than one-quarter of likely Republican primary voters.
Romney, who enjoys the support of the party establishment, has long led the Republican race with the party's conservative wing yet to coalesce around a single challenger.
The latest rival to surge in the polls is Gingrich, who on Sunday picked up the endorsement of the Union Leader, New Hampshire's largest newspaper and a prominent conservative voice in the state which holds the first presidential primary in January.
Gingrich has seen his political standing rise as he has posted solid debate performances while his rivals faltered.
In South Carolina, Gingrich touted himself as the one candidate who "can bring together national security conservatives and economic conservatives and social conservatives in order to make sure we have a conservative nominee".
However, Gingrich also faces questions about his two divorces and admissions of infidelity, his reputation as a Washington insider, and some of his own policy shifts. His rivals have suggested his immigration policy would offer amnesty for illegal immigrants.