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'And he speaks French!': Is Gingrich's latest attack on Romney desperate?

Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks at the Palmetto Senior Show in Columbia, South Carolina January 12, 2012.

BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS

GOP candidate Mitt Romney's opponents – both Republicans and Democrats – have bashed him for his big business record and his claim to have created hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Now his fiercest Republican opponent believes he has found the frontrunner's Achilles' heel: the candidate speaks French.

The "French Connection" ad, as it is called, comes from the Newt Gingrich campaign, which has been behind a barrage of attacks over Mr. Romney's tenure as the head of investment firm Bain Capital, where he is accused of managing takeovers and cutting jobs at struggling U.S. companies.

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The Globe's Washington correspondent Konrad Yakabuski reflects on those attacks and the "muscular response" by the Romney campaign in this week's Skype video chat on who is smiling and who is grimacing in the Republican leadership race.

But the latest Gingrich campaign ad attacking Mr. Romney's command of French suggests a desperate ploy by a candidate who is feeling the pressure to cut into the frontrunner's lead. Mr. Gingrich has to reinvigorate his own campaign ahead of the South Carolina primary on January 21st after failures in Iowa and New Hampshire.

After attacking the former governor of Massachusetts for being a "moderate" – a bad word in Republican circles – the ad's narrator says: "And just like John Kerry, he speaks French too."

John Kerry is the Massachusetts Democrat senator who ran for president against George W. Bush in 2004.

At the height of anti-French sentiment following France's opposition to the U.S.-led war on Iraq, Republican strategists honed in on Mr. Kerry's command of French as a liability.

The clip of Mr. Romney speaking French – "Bonjour. Je m'appelle Mitt Romney" – is from a promotional video from his time as one of the organizers of the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympics. It was dug out by his opponents during his failed 2008 presidential bid.

Mr. Romney spent more than two years in France as a missionary in the 1960s.

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Knocking Mr. Romney's 'French connection' is a risky game for Mr. Gingrich. Commentators have pointed out that Mr. Gingrich spent time living in France as a teenager and " had enough French to survive." Although the video of Mr. Gingrich showcasing his French has yet to surface.

France, and Europe in general, come up regularly in Mr. Romney's campaign speeches.

In 2007, he warned voters that Democrats were leading the U.S. to a French-style model of "big government, big taxes, Big Brother." When challenged by a voter about his France-bashing, he replied: "My kids are on vacation there right now. I love France. I speak French, lived in France. I have nothing but respect for the French people...I just don't want to become the France of the 21st century."

On Tuesday night, in his victory speech after winning the New Hampshire primary, Mr. Romney revisited the theme by attacking Mr. Obama's "European-style" policies: "He wants to turn America into a European-style entitlement society. We want to ensure that we remain a free and prosperous land of opportunity," he told supporters.

Attacking a Republican leadership candidate for his language skills is nothing new in the 2012 leadership race.

A video posted by a Ron Paul supporter ahead of the New Hampshire primary, showed candidate Jon Huntsman, former U.S. ambassador to China, speaking Mandarin. The ad calls him "The Manchurian Candidate" and posed the question: "What's he hiding?"

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Mr. Romney is leading Mr. Gingrich in the polls in South Carolina, where the Gingrich camp is hoping to sow doubt about the Romney candidacy among conservative voters.

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About the Author

Affan Chowdhry is the Globe's multimedia reporter specializing in foreign news. Prior to joining the Globe, he worked at the BBC World Service in London creating international news and current affairs programs and online content for a global audience. More

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