On the Trail

Romney Keeps the Heat on Gingrich in Naples

Campaigning Sunday in Florida, Mitt Romney blamed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for the state’s dismal state of home foreclosure, and connected the problem to Newt Gingrich’s lobbying.

01.29.12 11:50 PM ET

Mitt Romney kept up his relentless pummeling of Newt Gingrich across South Florida Sunday despite overwhelming evidence that the former Massachusetts governor is going to trounce Gingrich in Tuesday’s high-stakes primary.

“You know, he’s now finding excuses everywhere he can,” Romney told the cheering rally in Naples. “He’s on TV this morning going from station to station complaining about what he thinks are the reasons he has had difficulty here in Florida. But you know we’ve got a president who has a lot of excuses, and the excuses are over, it’s time to produce.”

Later, at rally with Latino voters outside the Casa Marin restaurant Hialeah, Florida, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Romney supporter, introduced him by immediately drawing attention to the candidate’s evolving position on abortion—a very important issue in the catholic Hispanic community.

“There are a lot of attack ads now in these last frantic days, frenetic days of the campaign, and you’re going to see a lot of mudslinging,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “That’s part of our democratic process.”

“But one ad that particularly irks me is attacking the strong pro-life record of Gov. Romney. Gov. Romney is a wonderful new believer, for a while now, of the pro-life cause and he was a champion for pro-life in a state where it took great courage to stand up for pro-life values.”

That was enough for Rolando Lara, who came to the rally undecided, despite the fact that Romney articulated in the ‘90s that he believed in a women’s right to an abortion. “People said he was flip-flopping on the abortion issue. But today he said he was pro-life,” said Lara. “I needed to hear him for myself. I know he was telling the truth because he said it front of his wife and son and grandson. He is a man of honor and we need a man of honor in the White House.”

When Romney spoke, he played to the crowd—a critical voting block in Florida—emphasizing family and asking his son, Craig, to greet them in Spanish.

Irene Zabel also said she was on the fence, and her husband persuaded to come to the rally. “I just wasn’t sure, he seemed to be hedging during some of the debates. Not forceful,” she said. “But I’m very glad to see him in person. I like Newt Gingrich’s fire but he’s not electable. He has too much baggage. I can’t vote for someone who I don’t think can beat Obama.”

The latest polls show Romney opening up a substantial lead over Gingrich. NBC/Marist poll shows Romney leading Gingrich by 15 points, 42 percent to 27 percent; and a Miami Herald-Tampa Bay Times-El Nuevo poll has Romney leading Gingrich 42 percent to 31 percent.

But the campaign is not taking any chances in Florida a week after suffering an embarrassing defeat to the former speaker in South Carolina. A loss in Florida could effectively end his candidacy.

A new ad airing this morning lists the 196 Republican House members who voted to reprimand Gingrich for ethical violations as speaker. This latest ad—like most of the other millions of dollars worth of ads by team Romney—sets out to portray Gingrich as an unethical, unstable, and unreliable politician.

“Your problem in Florida is that you worked for Freddie Mac at a time that Freddie Mac was not doing the right thing for the American people. And that you were selling influence in Washington at a time when we needed people to stand up for the truth in Washington.”

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Noting that one fourth of all houses in Florida are in foreclosure, Romney assailed Gingrich for “being paid $1.6 million to stand up and do what he did, which is to say these programs should continue the way they are. These institutions are fine. The people of Florida have had enough of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and government interference and it’s time to get back to free-market principles.”

Meanwhile, Gingrich, campaigning near Tampa, has vowed to stay in the race to the convention. Appearing on morning-news shows, he repeated his charges hat Romney lied during the debate on certain points. “I don’t know how you debate a person,” Gingrich said on Fox News Sunday, “when he stands there and blatantly just doesn’t tell the truth.”

The Romney campaign shot back with a slew of emails to reporters from politicians, giving testimonials on Romney’s character. If there’s one thing the campaign learned in South Carolina is never to let a charge go unanswered.