Romney Seeks To Knock Out Gingrich In Florida

by
Reuters
Bolstered by positive poll numbers, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Saturday sought to vanquish rival Newt Gingrich in Florida with a biting new ad about ethics charges and a mocking tone about his debate complaints.

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign stop at The Fish House in Pensacola, Florida January 28, 2012.  Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

Bolstered by positive poll numbers, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Saturday sought to vanquish rival Newt Gingrich in Florida with a biting new ad about ethics charges and a mocking tone about his debate complaints.

Just days ahead of a pivotal primary race that could determine who has the momentum to win the Republican state-by-state nominating battle, Romney and Gingrich traveled around Florida in a final weekend pitch to undecided voters.

Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and off-and-on front-runner to take on Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 election, needs a victory on Tuesday to regain his footing after losing badly to Gingrich in the South Carolina primary vote last weekend.

Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, needs a Florida win to solidify the frontrunner mantle he took on after his resounding victory in the third nominating contests.

"If we win Florida, I will be the nominee," Gingrich declared at a golf facility in Port St. Lucie.

Polls show Romney with an edge, however, and the former private equity executive used his momentum and financial muscle to draw up a closing argument that Gingrich's behavior in Congress made him unfit to be the Republican Party's leader.

In a simple ad titled "History Lesson" -- a play on Gingrich's background as a historian -- Romney's campaign showed footage of an NBC television anchor's news report the day Democrats and Republicans found him guilty of ethics violations in 1997.

"Newt Gingrich, who came to power, after all, preaching a higher standard in American politics, a man who brought down another Speaker on ethics accusations, tonight he has on his own record the judgment of his peers, Democrat and Republican alike," anchor Tom Brokaw says in the report, which makes up the entire ad.

Gingrich denies wrongdoing.

CONTROVERSY

The ad drew controversy from television network NBC, which reported it asked the Romney team to remove the newscast material from the ad. Romney's campaign said it had not received the request from NBC.

Gingrich and Romney have sought to tear each other down in the run-up to the Florida election, fighting over who is best equipped to beat Obama. Gingrich has boasted of carrying on the legacy of the late President Ronald Reagan, a hero to conservatives, while pushing for the anti-establishment support of the Tea Party.

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"I can run with a history - not a theory, not a promise - that we can create jobs by unleashing the American people," Gingrich told a pastel-clad crowd of golf fans at the PGA golf facility, criticizing Romney as not being a true conservative.

Don Brigham, 60, a golf pro from Port St. Lucie, said Gingrich's comments helped him make up his mind about whom to support.

"I was undecided, but I loved what I heard," he said. "I was very impressed with his personality. It's a two-man race on the Republican side. I was very impressed with his message. He pretty much spoke to my political beliefs."

But Romney's strong performances in two recent debates -- venues that have usually favored Gingrich -- have resonated with more voters, polls show.

Romney opened up a lead of 8 percentage points over Gingrich in a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday, beating him by 41 percent to 33 percent among likely voters in Florida's Republican primary.

The momentum fueled confidence in Romney, who mocked his rival for complaining about audience participation in their television debates.

"We've had about 18 debates so far, and they're getting more and more fun as time goes on," Romney said at one campaign event.

"This last one Speaker Gingrich said he didn't do so well because the audience was so loud. The one before he said he didn't do so well because the audience was too quiet. This is like Goldilocks."

Romney won in New Hampshire and former Senator Rick Santorum won the first contest in Iowa.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted on Thursday and Friday, partially capturing likely voters after the most recent debate.

Santorum trailed with 13 percent and Texas Congressman Ron Paul came in at the bottom with 5 percent support.