Gingrich Lashes Out at Romney Before Florida Primary
February 1, 2011
When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) won the South Carolina primary Jan. 21 he hoped to carry his momentum into Florida. Like Iowa, South Carolina favored evangelical candidates, a harsh reality for 64-year-old Mormon candidate former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney. Romney’s dead-heat but narrow loss to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum actually boded well for South Carolina, where the GOP’s religious conservatives come out in droves. Post election analysis in S.C. confirmed that Romney captured only received 20% of religious conservatives, compared with Newt’s 40%. Newt hoped that Romney’s bad PR about his 14% tax rate and offshore investments would sour voters on the generally upbeat Romney. With two days before the Florida primary, a new NBC/Marist poll showed that Romney stretched his lead to 42% to Gingrich’s 27%.
Barring a colossal reversal of fortunes, Romney should take all of Florida’s reduced 50 delegates. Since losing to Gingrich Jan. 21 in S.C., Romney has taken a more aggressive debate posture, showing the otherwise genteel venture capitalist could go toe-to-toe with one of Congress’ most aggressive debaters. It was Gingrich as House Speaker in 1998 that blasted former President Bill Clinton for his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. While Gingrich led the charge to impeach Clinton Jan. 19, 1998 in the House of Representatives, Clinton was eventually acquitted by U.S. Senate Feb. 12, 1999. No one in the House was more disappointed than Gingrich, whose own ethical lapses forced him out of office Nov. 5, 1998. Gingrich was the first and only House Speaker to be fined $300,000 and resign his office in U.S. history. He insists it was a partisan witch-hunt.
Heading into Tuesday’s Florida primary, Gingrich has lost all the steam he had in S.C. Mounting attacks by Romney and others have taken a toll on the 68-year-old former House Speaker. “This party is not going to nominate somebody who is a pro-abortion, pro-gun-control, pro-tax increase liberal,” Gingrich lashed out at Romney, hoping to close the gap before Tuesday’s vote. “It’s not going to happen,” said Newt, referring to Romney’s expected victory. While S.C. boosted Gingrich’s hopes, the reality of a national campaign is beginning to sink in. “The bottom line in all this is Romney’s sitting in the driver’s seat going into Tuesday,” said Lee Miringhoff, director of the NBC/Marist poll, showing Romney up by 15%. Gingrich doesn’t want to admit that his short-lived S.C. success doesn’t translate into less conservative states, where Romney has cemented his lead.
Returning from Florida to Philadelphia to attend to his youngest daughter’s pneumonia, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum has all but resigned, leaving only 77-year-old Texas Rep. Ron Paul to battle it out with Romney and Gingrich. Though barely pulling out Iowa, Santorum has been polling poorly in Florida, a distant third, possibly 4th behind Paul. Santorum is expected to throw in the towel after Tuesday’s primary. Even Paul, whose libertarian leanings win him some youth support, can’t last much longer, no longer considered a viable vice presidential pick. Romney’s impressive comeback in Florida, where Gingrich showed momentum up till two days ago, signals that the GOP has lined up behind the former Mass. governor. Despite Romney’s negatives, he’s still got far more going for him than Gingrich, already saddled with sex scandals and cronyism.
Gingrich fell off the pedestal once voters were reminded of his financial dealing with Feddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Both private federal home mortgage went broke in 2008, while Gingrich collected $1.6 million in consulting fees. Newt had a difficult time explaining to the press he was paid for his historical expertise, not lobbying. No matter how you cut it, it was difficult for Gingrich to preach fiscal restraint while he ran to the bank. “What does Gingrich need to do? I would say Romney would need to implode,” said Brad Coker, Miami Herald pollster who surveyed 800 Florida registered voters. While Gingrich seemed to offer an alternative to Romney, recent polls showed Mitt fairing poorly against Obama. Romney matched up better than Gingrich against a hypothetical contest with Obama. NBC/Marist’s poll showed Gingrich losing to Barack 53% to 35%.
Hoping that lashing out before Florida’s vote will help narrow the gap, Gingrich looks more desperate heading into Florida’s primary. If the trend continues, Romney will walk away with all 50 of Florida’s reduced number of delegates, punished by the Republican National Committee for moving up the primary. Trying to find a silver lining, Gingrich hopes recent polls don’t reflect true conservatives, destined to change the vote on Election Day. “I think the election will be substantially closer hat the two polls that came out this morning,” said Newt, hoping his attack ads will work before Tuesday. Given that Santorum and Paul are polling at 14% and 6%, respectively, it looks like a two-way race with Romney sprinting toward the finish line. If Gingrich finishes poorly in Florida, it won’t take long for Mitt to finish him off by Super Tuesday, March 6, when some 10 states vote.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.
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