Cedar Rapids, Iowa (CNN) – A storm brewing between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich crackled behind the scenes Friday as representatives from both campaigns undercut the other on dueling media conference calls.
The Romney campaign has mounted an offensive against Gingrich this week after a series of polls showed the former House speaker’s support solidifying in many early voting states.
On Friday surrogates for Newt Gingrich called those attacks, including a web ad critical of Gingrich’s stance on a Republican entitlement reform initiative, a sign of “desperation and panic.”
Newt 2010 Iowa Chairwoman Linda Upmeyer told reporters Iowa caucus-goers would not be swayed by negative advertising.
“They don't want to see $3 million of attack ads,” Upmeyer said. “We understand a load of crap when we see it.”
A political action committee supportive of Romney’s candidacy announced a $3.1 million ad buy in Iowa that began this week. Campaign finance laws prohibit the PAC from coordinating with the Romney campaign.
Meanwhile Romney's supporters continued to play up the former Massachusetts governor's long marriage and photogenic family, and then vehemently deny suggestions the idyllic portrait was designed to contrast with Gingrich's three marriages and his acknowledged infidelity while married to his second wife.
Former Ambassador Mary Kramer told reporters on a Romney call Friday she supported Romney in part due to the "life of integrity" he had led.
"It's such a pleasure to see him interact with his family, his wife and his sons and the family," she said. "He would never get off the rails in such a way that would embarrass us."
But after a follow-up from a reporter, Kramer said she had not meant to slight Gingrich.
"I think we all in our lives, as someone who's reached the advanced age that I have, have done things that we're not particularly proud of,” she said. “But I think it's time to look forward.”
Romney surrogate Iowa State Rep. Renee Schulte told reporters Iowans expect to study contrasts between candidates and that many factors were relevant in determining the best Republican nominee.
“It's all on display for people to decide what they think matches their own values and their best judgment,” she said. “Nobody here is saying that one person is right or wrong in what they have – the lives that they’ve chosen up to this point. But it is a contrast.”
She added: “It’s not anybody trying to attack anybody. It’s more of a difference.”
Surrogates on the Gingrich press call would not respond to questions about whether they thought the Romney campaign was making personal attacks against the former speaker.
Instead, former Rep. Greg Ganske warned a Romney attack could backfire with Iowa voters.
“I think they will see this as a sign of weakness on the part of the candidate that is attacking the speaker,” he said.
Ganske, who served with Gingrich in the House and who has hosted the former speaker this summer during the low point of his campaign, said Gingrich had grown since he last served in Congress.
“In his time out of office he has had time to think about a lot of different things,” Ganske said, calling Gingrich a “fundamentally happier person.”
As to the charges Gingrich is too undisciplined to survive a general election campaign, Ganske pointed to the speaker’s performance in a series of high-profile GOP debates this fall.
“Have you seen any major errors in those debates?” he asked. “I don’t think so.”
The two leading GOP candidates have yet to level serious attacks against each other in the public arena. But a debate Saturday night could change that.