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'Attack ads' sway US election race

The battle to become Republican presidential candidate between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich is escalating, with attack adverts dominating the contest.

Two weeks remain before Iowa casts the first votes in the battle for the party's nomination. The January 3 results will help shape the rest of the state-by-state march to the Republican nominating convention in August.

After soaring to the top of the polls both in Iowa and nationally in recent weeks, former House of Representatives speaker Mr Gingrich finds himself struggling under more than a million dollars in negative advertising, much of it paid for by supporters of Mr Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.

Both men criticise a new campaign finance system - fuelled by deep-pocketed political action committees - that each benefits from.

In Iowa, Mr Gingrich vowed his White House bid would remain positive, while in the next breath he called the Romney camp's tactics "disgusting." Mr Gingrich, known for a bare-knuckles campaign style when he engineered the Republican takeover of the House in the 1990s, suggested that his opponents "hire consultants who get drunk, sit around and write stupid ads."

Earlier Mr Romney said super PACs - political action committees which can independently raise funds to campaign for a candidate - have been "a disaster." But he refused to urge the group Restore Our Future to halt the attacks on Mr Gingrich, saying the law prohibits co-ordination between his campaign and such groups. And he pointedly declined to disavow the ads. "I'm not allowed to communicate with a super PAC in any way, shape or form," said Mr Romney, who has been campaigning in the January 10-voting state of New Hampshire.

Hours later, Mr Gingrich read the remarks to reporters and said, "His comments are palpably misleading, clearly false and are politics at its worst form."

Meanwhile, Ron Paul has emerged as a wild card in the race. The blunt-spoken Texas congressman will campaign in Iowa again. The race remains unpredictable, as voters weigh electability against conservative credentials.

The bickering over negative adverts has highlighted the role of super PACs, which can accept unlimited donations but are not supposed to directly work with candidates. Such groups have sprung up to work on behalf of every serious Republican candidate in the wake of a US Supreme Court decision last year that allowed people, unions and corporations to donate unlimited sums of money to outfits advocating the election or defeat of candidates.

Mr Romney has labelled the system a "disaster"; Mr Gingrich calls it "a nightmare." However each has PACs raising money on their behalf.

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