WASHINGTON (AP) - Newt Gingrich's long political record and Washington ties are coming back to haunt him four weeks before Iowa's leadoff Republican presidential caucuses.
The former House speaker was pressed Tuesday in a radio interview to explain his past support of health care mandates, his belief in human-caused climate change, and his advocacy for a certain level of government regulation - positions that irk many conservatives - just as rival Ron Paul rolled out a hard-hitting TV ad in Iowa that uses Gingrich's own words to accuse him of "serial hypocrisy."
"If you want to put people in jail, let's look at the politicians who created the environment, the politicians who profited from the environment," Gingrich is shown saying in the ad. It casts him as a Washington insider who espoused conservative principles as House speaker only to profit from special interests when he became a high-dollar consultant.
Chief opponent Mitt Romney weighed in, too, telling Fox News Channel: "If the American people believe that what we need is someone who has spent the last 40 years or so in Washington, D.C., working as an insider, why, he's the right guy."
And Romney added: "America needs a leader, not someone who's an insider."
It's just the start of what could end up being a deluge of criticism as rivals look to curb Gingrich's rise in polls between now and the Jan. 3 caucuses. Opponents are mining his lengthy Washington career - he was an elected official and then a sought-after consultant - for ammunition as they try woo an electorate that views experience in Washington as unsavory.
Such criticism comes as a Washington Post/ ABC News poll shows Gingrich with 33 percent support in Iowa, with Paul and Romney at 18 percent. It's similar to other polls in Iowa and elsewhere that show Gingrich with a lead.
Gingrich dismissed Paul's ad during an evening interview on CNBC.
"He's got to make up a lot of lost ground. he's got to say something," Gingrich said.
Given the gulf, rivals are turning to the long paper trail of Gingrich's quotes and votes from his two decades in the House as well as his lucrative consultant business after leaving office in 1999. There also are the circumstances surrounding the ethics investigation he faced, an issue that has not yet been examined anew but certainly will in the coming weeks.
"One of these days we'll have a conversation about Newt Gingrich," Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, told Talking Points Memo this week. "I know a lot about him. I served on the investigative committee that investigated him, four of us locked in a room in an undisclosed location for a year. A thousand pages of his stuff."
It didn't take long for Gingrich to respond, saying Pelosi would violate House rules if she released more than has been made public about the investigation and the resulting $300,000 settlement.
So far, Gingrich is not shying away from his record.
In campaign appearances, he brings up his for-profit work after leaving office. And he and his wife, Callista, come up with responses to expected tough questions.
Gingrich submitted to an interrogation of sorts Tuesday by conservative radio host Glenn Beck.
Beck spent the bulk of his time confronting Gingrich on equivocations on certain issues, juxtaposing the candidate's past comments with his current positions- and grilling the candidate on the discrepancies.
Gingrich, at times testy, didn't back down when pressed but instead launched into lengthy explanations of where he stood and, like the college professor he once was, offered up answers that explored the intricacies of certain policies.
On climate change, Beck cited a television commercial Gingrich once filmed with Pelosi, a Democrat, on the need to address the issue and recalled a debate Gingrich once did on the topic with Democratic Sen. John Kerry. Some conservatives question the role of humans in global warming.
Gingrich now says filming the ad with Pelosi was a mistake, and he hedges when asked about humans' role in climate change.
"There is evidence on both sides of the climate change argument," he told Beck.
On health care, Beck presented Gingrich with audio of his past statements - in 1993 and twice this year - supporting health care mandates for individuals.
These days, Gingrich criticizes the Democrats' requirement in the health care overhaul that all Americans have coverage and seeks to explain away any discrepancies by saying that a mandate has a role but, as he told Beck, "I wouldn't impose it on everybody across the board."
"In a free society, you don't elect officials to impose on you things that you disagree with," he added.
On federal regulations, Beck unearthed a comment Gingrich once made calling himself a Theodore Roosevelt Republican when it comes to the role of government in people's lives.
Gingrich welcomed his previous comparison but said was referring to Roosevelt's interest in protecting consumers prior to 1912, by which Gingrich said the president had become "a big government, centralized power advocate." Added Gingrich: "There are minimum regulatory standards of public health and safety that are I think really important."
In a later interview with CNBC, Gingrich was direct: "I like the Roosevelt who was common sense about regulation."
The comment earned him this warning from host Larry Kudlow: "Some people are going to say, 'You're a big government conservative.'"