2012 ELECTION

Mitt Romney with 14-point lead over Newt Gingrich

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"That's why they're trying to carpet-bomb us here in Florida," said former Gingrich aide Rick Tyler, who runs the pro-Gingrich political action committee Winning Our Future. "They're trying to end this thing. But it's not going to end."

Tyler visited the first of three rallies Romney had planned Monday to rail against Romney and urge Santorum to leave the race.

"I'm here to get as many cameras and microphones so I can talk about Mitt Romney's incessant failure to tell the truth," Tyler said, echoing Gingrich's recent claims about Romney's character.

Tyler called Romney "despicable" and "disgraceful."

He also called on Santorum to leave the race to clear the way for Gingrich.

"I think it would give us Mitt Romney, and I think Rick would hurt himself" by staying in, Tyler said.

Speaking to reporters, Romney said Gingrich's threats indicated desperation.

"That's usually the case when you think you're going to lose," he said.

"Everybody has a right to stay in as long as they think" they should, Romney said.

Gingrich kept up his attacks, saying Monday that on the big, philosophical issues, Romney "is for all practical purposes a liberal. I am a conservative."

"It's closing here in Florida," Gingrich said, "and I think the next 24 hours in going to make a big difference."

Gingrich also defended his ties to President Ronald Reagan after Romney supporters questioned Reagan's rapport with the former speaker.

"Mitt Romney may not know about the Reagan years because he was not there," Gingrich told supporters in Pensacola.

Polls showed Romney running ahead of Gingrich in the state. Romney earned positive reviews after two debates last week and has put the former House speaker on the defensive over his ethics and ties to Freddie Mac.

But instead of stepping back and refocusing on President Barack Obama - as he did in Iowa when it became clear that Gingrich had lost - Romney is ratcheting up his rhetoric and attacking until the very end.

He hopes to close the Florida campaign strongly to push Gingrich as far back as possible.

Gingrich said Monday he was closing the gap with Romney in Florida. He said the Republican Party needed a "clear conservative" to run against Obama in the fall, and that there was very little difference between Obama and Romney when it came to their policies and politics, such as health care.

"Mitt Romney will have a very, very hard time trying to differentiate himself," Gingrich said. In what has become a wildly unpredictable race, the momentum has swung back to Romney, who was staggered by Gingrich's victory in South Carolina on Jan. 21.

Romney has begun advertising in Nevada ahead of caucuses there next Saturday, illustrating the challenge ahead for Gingrich.

An NBC News/Marist poll published Sunday showed Romney with support from 42 percent of likely Florida primary voters, compared with 27 percent for Gingrich.

Santorum, trailing in Florida by a wide margin, skipped campaigning to be with his 3-year-old daughter, Bella, who was hospitalized. He planned to campaign Monday in Missouri and Minnesota.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has invested little in Florida, also looked to Nevada. The libertarian-leaning Paul is focusing more on gathering delegates in caucus states, where it's less expensive to campaign. But securing the nomination only through caucus states is a hard task.

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