Despite leading national polls for the moment, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is 15 points behind rival Mitt Romney in Florida. The former Speaker went to the stump and airwaves Sunday to pitch his message to the conservative base only days before the Sunshine State's Republican primary election. Gingrich even hinted that fellow candidate Rick Santorum should perhaps step aside.
"When you add the two conservatives together, we clearly beat Romney," POLITICO reports Gingrich said of his and Rick Santorum's vote shares in current polls. "And I think Romney's got a very real challenge in trying to get a majority at the convention."
POLITICO's Maggie Haberman writes Sunday that Gingrich came out swinging against Romney outside the Exciting Idlewild Baptish Church in Lutz, Florida, telling reporters he will take the race all the way to the convention because "the Republican party will not nominate a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase moderate from Massachusetts."
Gingrich acknowledged his slide in polls during an interview on ABC's "This Week" Sunday morning, alleging that he's still ahead of Romney in the areas of the country not flooded by "Romney carpet-bombs with Wall Street money."
”It’s only when he can mass money to focus on carpet-bombing with negative ads that he gains any traction at all,” Gingrich said.
To the former Speaker's credit, POLITICO reports Sunday night that Gingrich has been outspent on the Florida airwaves by a nearly $12 million margin. A source monitoring the Sunshine State ad war told Alexander Burns that through Friday, the Romney campaign and the super PAC Restore Our Future had spent a combined $15,340,000, in comparison to the $3,390,000 spent by the Gingrich campaign and the super PAC Winning Our Future. The Associated Press notes that Romney has already begun advertising in Nevada ahead of that state's caucuses next Saturday.
Perhaps smelling blood in the water, the Romney campaign has reportedly sent surrogates to all of Gingrich's campaign stops in Florida to remind reporters of the former Speaker's House ethics probe in the 1990s and other episodes in his career aimed at raising doubt about his judgment.
Gingrich has responded defensively, calling on supporters to help him "defeat the Republican establishment" and alleging that Romney has made untrue statements in his advertisements and on the debate stage. The National Journal reports on Gingrich's "jarring assault" on Romney Sunday:
“'Some of the attacks on me have been breathtakingly dishonest,' Gingrich said on ABC’s This Week. 'And I think as that deepens, the conservatives are going to come together and decide they do not want a Massachusetts liberal to be the Republican nominee.'
Gingrich went on to accuse the former Massachusetts governor of making untrue statements in his advertisements, in his campaign rhetoric and on the debate stage, where the candidates have now met 19 times.'I don’t know how you debate a person with civility if they're prepared to say things that are just plain factually false,' Gingrich said."
Gingrich objected Sunday specifically to a Romney campaign ad that includes a 1997 NBC News report on the House's decision to discipline Gingrich for ethics charges. The ad indirectly stars anchor Tom Brokaw, and NBC News and Brokaw have since objected to the campaign's use of the footage.
The National Journal notes that while taking the opportunity to appear on several Sunday news programs, Gingrich attacked Romney on a wide range of issues:
"For example, Gingrich bashed Romney for raising sizeable amounts of money on Wall Street and specifically mentioned Goldman Sachs, a firm which is wildly unpopular with tea party voters because of the size of its government bailout during the 2008 financial collapse. He then accused Romney of using that money to 'carpet bomb him in Florida with dishonest ads.
'I give Governor Romney’s campaign due respect for the sheer volume of negativity that they use and the sheer amount of money they raise on Wall Street,' Gingrich said on Fox News Sunday.
Gingrich also lit into Romney’s background, labeling him a 'Massachusetts liberal' and saying that Romney is trying to hide his record. 'You have a governor of Massachusetts who was pro-abortion, he was pro-tax increase, he was pro-gun control,' Gingrich said. 'He can’t even remember his own voting record.'”
The Associated Press reports that Romney spent Sunday continuing to paint Gingrich as part of the very Washington establishment that he condemns, and as someone who had a role in the nation's economic problems.
"Your problem in Florida is that you worked for Freddie Mac at a time when Freddie Mac was not doing the right thing for the American people, and that you're selling influence in Washington at a time when we need people who will stand up for the truth in Washington," Romney told an audience in Naples.
Gingrich's consulting firm was paid more than $1.5 million by the federally-backed mortgage company over a period after he left Congress in 1999.
The Boston Globe notes that Romney accused Gingrich Sunday of making excuses about a pair of flat debate performances last week and mocked Gingrich as "Goldilocks,’’ a new line he has adopted to suggest that the former former Speaker can’t decide why he appeared to struggle in the debates.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul has invested little in Florida, and AP reports Sunday that the libertarian-leaning Congressman looked ahead to Nevada. The Paul campaign is focusing on gathering delegates in caucus states, where it's less expensive to campaign.
Santorum canceled his Florida events Sunday to be with his youngest daughter Bella, who had been admitted to a Philadelphia hospital Saturday night and is recovering from pneumonia. The former Pennsylvania senator's aides sent his 20-year-old daughter to campaign for her father in Florida Sunday.