MANCHESTER, N.H. — Mitt Romney on Monday aggressively criticized rival Newt Gingrich and called on him to return the estimated $1.6 million he received for providing strategic advice to Freddie Mac, the quasi-government agency that guarantees home mortgages.
"One of the things that I think people recognize in Washington is that people go there to serve the people and then they stay there to serve themselves," Romney told Fox News Channel during an interview from the Chez Vachon diner here.
Romney said the $1.6 million sum is much higher than the $300,000 figure Gingrich was asked about during a candidates' debate last month in Michigan. Gingrich said at the time that he acted as a historian and did not lobby for Freddie Mac.
"That would make him the highest paid historian in history," Romney said.
Gingrich was equally aggressive in his response,
"If Gov. Romney would give back all the money he's earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over the years at Bain, then I would be glad to listen to him," he told reporters in Londonderry. "But I bet you $10, not $10,000, that he won't take the offer."
Gingrich was referring to Romney's time as a business consultant and founder of Bain Capital, a venture capital firm. Romney has been accused of making millions through massive layoffs and heartless cost-cutting at businesses the firm acquired.
Romney opened a two-day swing through New Hampshire on Monday, less than a month before the state's critical Jan. 10 primary. After spending months focused on raising money, the former governor of next-door Massachusetts is starting to spend more time on retail campaigning — and is running into the unscripted, problematic moments that often entails.
At the diner, Romney sat down in a booth next to Bob Garon, who wore a Vietnam veteran's cap. Romney wanted to ask about his military service but the 63-year-old wanted to talk about gays in the military. Garon is a gay veteran.
Garon was sitting across from his husband, Bob Lemire — the couple goes to Chez Vachon every morning — when Romney joined them, surrounded by a crush of TV cameras.
Garon asked if Romney would support repealing the law that legalized gay marriage in New Hampshire and allowed him and Lemire to marry. Romney said he supported the repeal because marriage is between a man and a woman.
"OK, that means if you were in the White House, you would not support any form of legislation that would change that so a serviceman would be entitled to any benefits like a man and a woman?" Garon asked. "A veteran and a spouse would not be entitled to any burial benefits, or medical benefits, or anything that the serviceman has devoted his time and effort to his country?"
When a veteran dies, his or her spouse is entitled to certain benefits, including possibly being interred beside their spouse in a military cemetery.
"I believe that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman," Romney responded.
He said the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage at the federal level as between a man and a woman, also "defines benefits, whether for veterans or non-veterans as between married spouses and for me that's a man and a woman. We apparently disagree on that."
An aide tried to remove Romney from the situation, claiming the candidate had another interview with Fox News Channel.
"Oh, I guess the question was too hot," Garon said. Before getting up to leave the booth, Romney said he had given Garon a yes or no answer.
Separately Monday, Romney further dismissed the $10,000 bet he offered Texas Gov. Rick Perry during a debate Saturday in Iowa. He called it "an outrageous number to answer an outrageous charge" — namely, Perry's claim that Romney changed language in the paperback version of his book that referred to support for a health care mandate.
The bet sparked charges that Romney, a multimillionaire businessman, is out of step with the economic challenges facing ordinary people.