Backers say Romney needs to get tough

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidate, speaks at a campaign event on Tuesday in Paradise Valley, Ariz.

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney's above-the-fray campaign style kept him atop the Republican presidential field for months, but it's raising concerns among his supporters now that Newt Gingrich has surged to challenge him.

Some Romney backers say their candidate must mix it up more aggressively, with Gingrich and with reporters, to prove he has the moxie to be the GOP challenger to President Barack Obama. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, particularly caused concerns with his prickly responses in a recent Fox News interview. He needs to show more toughness and willingness to field questions, party insiders say.

The message seemed to resonate with his campaign Tuesday. Romney said he will appear on Fox News Sunday on Dec. 18, his first national Sunday talk show in nearly two years. He also fielded questions from reporters covering his Arizona visit, marking his third such "press availability" in four days.

The moves make sense to Rich Galen, a GOP strategist and former Gingrich aide who is neutral in the current race. "The lack of engagement strategy has served Romney pretty well," Galen said. "Now I think they've got to alter course and get him out there more."

Numerous Romney supporters had expressed concern over reports of him dodging reporters and in-depth questioning.

"It remains a mystery why Mitt Romney has done relatively few interviews," Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger for The Washington Post who often praises Romney, wrote on Monday. The much-discussed Nov. 29 Fox interview, she said, might have gone better "had it been one of dozens of TV interviews he'd given during the campaign. ... He's been the least-interviewed candidate in the race."

In his 15-minute exchange with Fox News' Brett Baier, Romney bristled at questions about his changed views on abortion, climate change, immigration and gay rights, all of which are widely discussed in political circles.

Romney acknowledged rejecting his pro-abortion-rights stand of the 1990s, although he did not explain why.

Otherwise, he told Baier, "Your list is just not accurate." Romney suggested the questions were inspired by "Democratic ads" that label him a serial flip-flopper.

Asked about his Massachusetts health initiative, which required residents to obtain medical insurance, Romney said he had answered the question "many hundred times." He added: "This is an unusual interview."

The questions were typical of those that many mainstream news organizations would ask, with no surprises or oddball queries. Except for Fox, which has several conservative hosts and is a favorite stop for GOP candidates, Romney rarely gives extended interviews to TV networks or national newspapers and news magazines. That seems unlikely to change soon.

"I'll be on Fox a lot, because you guys matter when it comes to Republican primary voters," Romney told Fox News' Neil Cavuto on Tuesday.

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he will not participate in a debate being hosted this month by real estate mogul and TV personality Donald Trump.

Romney told Fox News on Tuesday that he called Trump and told him he would not attend.

Several prominent Republicans have urged candidates to skip the Trump debate. They predict it will be a media circus and a distraction from important issues.