After the deal was announced, Mr. Romney became the target of mocking criticism from several of his Republican presidential rivals — except Newt Gingrich, who said that selling his campaign would allow him to spend more time with his wife Callista and Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.


 


 

Mitt Romney said on Thursday that his campaign had agreed to buy the campaign of presidential rival Newt Gingrich for $440 million in cash.


After the deal was announced, Mr. Romney became the target of mocking criticism from several of his Republican presidential rivals — except Newt Gingrich, who said that selling his campaign would allow him to spend more time with his wife Callista and Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.


Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said the purchase of a rival candidate’s campaign “just seems very out of the ordinary.”


Mr. Perry said the $440 million deal with the Gingrich campaign was the latest sign that his opponent is out of step as Mr. Romney’s acquisition comes less than two weeks after he had tried to make a $10,000 bet with Mr. Perry during a candidates debate to settle a disagreement over health care,


“Having an extra $440 million that you would throw down on Gingrich while only offering to bet a paltry $10,000 with me, well, I may not be a betting man, but that just strikes me as insulting,” Mr. Perry said in a brief interview as he passed through a coffee shop in Ames, Iowa.


Mr. Perry added that he would be willing to bet Mr. Romney $100,000 that the purchase of the Gingrich campaign won’t help him at all with “conservative voters and apes who believe in evolution.”


Former Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah, who did not meet requirements to participate in the debate two weeks ago because of his low poll numbers, sought to keep the exchange alive by suggesting that his campaign was open to accepting an offer from Mr. Romney.


“We’re not ruling out anything at this point,” said Mr. Huntsman, speaking from a shopping cart that was doubling as a campaign bus and a campaign headquarters as he rolled it through the streets of Manchester, N.H.


The purchase by Mr. Romney not only drew attention to his wealth, but also highlighted how he had grown defensive in the weeks before the Republican voting begins at the Iowa caucuses. He sought to brush aside questions about the $440 million acquisition, noting that his wife, Ann, told him after the deal, “A lot of things you can change your mind about; this isn’t one of them.”


Mr. Romney’s Republican presidential rivals fanned out across Iowa, New Hampshire and the television talk shows this week, trying to deliver arguments for why Mr. Romney might want to purchase their campaigns. As each tried to distinguish themselves from the others by showing their operation was the most like Mr. Gingrich’s, the increasingly bitter exchanges between the Republican rivals grew even more heated.


Campaign strategists say they aren’t surprised to see the presidential candidates increasingly turning their venom on one another given what was at stake. There may be less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, but the strategists believe the coming days could prove a pivotal time to make headway with Mr. Romney before he tunes out for the holidays.


Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who has a strong organization and a loyal following in Iowa, said Sunday that there was little difference between his and Mr. Gingrich’s campaign and dismissed the efforts of his rivals to paint his views as even more lunatic than Mr. Gingrich’s.


“I think we come from the same mold,” Mr. Paul said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He said both the Gingrich campaign and his were cashing in on the defensiveness of the Romney campaign to move up in the polls and now they are both looking to cash out into the world of the super wealthy, which he described as “the only genuinely free existence for man.”


Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said hers was the only truly crazy campaign out there. Of the Bachmann and Gingrich campaigns, she said, “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two of them.” In an appearance on CBS News’s “Face the Nation,” she repeated a phrase she coined at the debate, “Bach Gingrich,” and urged the Romney campaign to study the records, noting that both campaigns “have a history of making ill-advised remarks” that have helped galvanize their appeal to a particular group of voters that Mr. Romney desperately needs to win the nomination.


Mr. Gingrich, who has been a regular guest at inelegant meet-and-greets, declined invitations to appear at any diners in New Hampshire or Iowa the day after he emerged relatively unscathed and much wealthier from the campaign buyout.


Mr. Gingrich left Iowa for a weekend of private events, reportedly including a book-signing in Virginia. His only weekend campaign event will be a tele-town-hall-style meeting on Sunday to instruct adolescent would-be school janitors on the long history and social importance of their new job.


Of his latest political move, Mr. Gingrich said, “I think it’s good conservative principle to find ways to help my family that are right at the margins. That way we don’t have to ever learn how to budget or to put our house in order. After all, we’ve got better things to do.”


Philip Maddocks can be reached at pmaddocks@wickedlocal.com.