Gingrich says Romney is ‘desperate’
Mitt Romney ramped up his criticism of Newt Gingrich on Monday, prompting the former House speaker to respond that his chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination was getting desperate.
Surging in the polls after his double-digit victory in South Carolina last week, Gingrich said that presumptive front-runner Romney was seeing his early lead disappearing in Florida, the site of the next primary on January 31.
A new national poll Monday put Gingrich and the former Massachusetts governor in a statistical tie at the top, with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul lagging behind. Gingrich also has narrowed Romney’s lead among Florida voters.
All four candidates will participate Monday night in the first of two debates this week in Florida.
“If you’ve been campaigning for six years and you begin to see it slip away, you get desperate,” Gingrich said Monday in Tampa. “And when you get desperate, you say almost anything, and I think at tonight’s debate he’ll stretch the barrier on almost anything.”
Television ad spending by candidate Romney takes aim at Gingrich in Florida Florida voters react to S.C. primary Romney leads field in ad spending
Meanwhile, Romney called Gingrich a Washington insider lobbyist, questioned his leadership and demanded that he release records tied to a previous ethics investigation and work done for housing giant Freddie Mac.
Romney also demanded Gingrich return roughly $1.6 million earned from a contract with Freddie Mac and ridiculed Gingrich’s insistence that the work amounted to little more than “strategic” advice, as opposed to lobbying.
“Saying that New Gingrich is a lobbyist is just a matter of fact. … If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck,” Romney told reporters in Tampa. “We could see an October surprise a day from Newt Gingrich. Let’s see the records.”
Romney was expected to continue his new rhetorical offensive in the Monday night debate and throughout the run-up to the Sunshine State primary.
“As you look at the speaker’s record over time, it has been highly erratic,” Romney said. “He voted in favor of establishing the Department of Education, and yet he gets in a debate and says we should get rid of the Department of Education and send all the education issues back to the states. He is opposed vehemently to the Massachusetts health care system, and yet just a couple of years ago wrote about what a superb system it was.”
Earlier in the day, Gingrich said he had asked his former company, the Center for Health Transformation, to release the details of its consulting contract with Freddie Mac. The company said it would release the contract and a statement on Monday evening.
Gingrich repeated his insistence that he did no lobbying of any kind.
“Romney keeps using the word lobbyist, I’m sure, because his consultants tell him it scores well,” Gingrich said. “It’s not true. He knows it’s not true. He’s deliberately saying things he knows are false.”
Gingrich also accused Romney of hypocrisy.
“Here’s somebody who has released none of his business records, who has decided to make a stand on transparency without being transparent,” Gingrich said.
On Sunday, Romney yielded to mounting pressure to release his previous tax returns, promising to make public his 2010 return and an estimate of his 2011 tax liability.