FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2011, file photo, Republican presidential candidates former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, left, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, businessman Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, pose before a Republican presidential debate at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich. When it comes to education, the Republican field of presidential candidates has a unified stance to get the federal government out of schools, but disagree on methods. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Newt Gingrich is accusing Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney of spouting "pious baloney" for saying he's not a career politician, demanding in a debate on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Romney "just level with the American people."
Romney denied the accusation briskly. "Politics is not my career," he said. "My life's passion has been my family, my faith, my country."
The exchange -- and another one in which Rick Santorum swapped jibes with Romney -- marked the opening moments of the second half of a weekend debate doubleheader in the run-up to next Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.
Romney won the Iowa caucuses last Tuesday by eight votes over Santorum and leads in the polls in New Hampshire, where his rivals have all but conceded he will win.
South Carolina comes next, on Jan. 21, the first Southern state to hold a primary, and Romney pointedly noted that he has been endorsed by that state's governor, Nikki Haley.