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MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, facing criticism over a large charge account he held at upscale jewelry store, Tiffany & Co., remained defiant on Wednesday.
"People should be free to spend their own money the way they see fit," the former House speaker said at a campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire, noting that he and his third wife, Callista, have virtually no debt.
Gingrich also brushed off his weak showing in opinion polls since he went ahead with his run for the 2012 Republican primary earlier this month.
A survey of probable Republican primary voters in the key early primary state of New Hampshire, taken May 18 through 22, showed Gingrich with just six percent support. Nationally, a CNN poll early this month put Gingrich's support at 10 percent.
Gingrich blamed negative media for his recent poor showing in surveys, and vowed: "Let's see where the polls are in three to four months."
Gingrich's no-interest revolving charge account at Tiffany's, with a limit of between $250,001 and $500,000, was first reported by Politico on May 17, and has attracted widespread attention.
The Republican has since said that he and wife are "very frugal." On Wednesday he described himself as someone who has "founded four small businesses."
If nothing else, the jewelry hubbub has drowned out much of Gingrich's campaign message at a time his campaign is struggling to gain traction.
Gingrich was back on form at Wednesday's event, run by the Granite State Political Action Committee, taking questions for an hour from about 200 Republicans on topics ranging from deficit reduction to his shifting stance on Medicare reform, to global warming.
Many audience members said they were impressed by Gingrich's record in Congress, but uncommitted for the 2012 Republican primary election in the state, which will be held on February 14, 2012.
"Every candidate will have pluses and minus, advantages and disadvantages. You have to make do with what you have," said Robert Jursik, 45, a data analyst from Concord, New Hampshire.
Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Greg McCune