Romney Attacks as Gingrich Seeks Funds in Race Moving to Florida

Mitt Romney criticized Newt Gingrich as a lobbyist and Washington insider while the former House speaker said his rival “is running for CEO,” as both men sought to reposition their campaigns in a newly tumultuous Republican presidential primary race.

Addressing voters in Florida late yesterday, Romney attacked Gingrich’s character, record and leadership ability.

“We’re not choosing a talk show host, he told voters gathered for an outdoor rally in Ormond Beach. “We’re choosing a leader.”

Earlier yesterday, Gingrich said on television talk shows that Romney lacked the government expertise needed to be president.

“Governor Romney may be running for CEO,” Gingrich said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “I’m running for president.”

Romney is working to regain his footing after a 12-point loss in the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21 as Republicans confront the possibility of a prolonged fight for their party’s nomination. Gingrich’s victory set up a costly and combative campaign for the Jan. 31 Florida primary.

The former Massachusetts governor easily won the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10 and finished a close second in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. Leading up to the South Carolina vote, his rivals’ assault on his record as a private-equity executive sidetracked his effort to quickly lock up the nomination.

Television Ads

Although he lost two of the three contests, Romney enters Florida with advantages. His campaign and its allies have been airing television ads in the state attacking rivals for almost a month. With early voting under way, Romney organizers are courting supporters and encouraging them to cast ballots before primary day.

Minutes after the South Carolina race was called, Gingrich sent a message on the Twitter social-networking site thanking supporters and asking for donations. Yesterday, he sent an e- mail seeking to raise $1 million to deliver “a knockout punch in the Republican primaries.” It costs about $1 million a week to compete in the 11 media markets in Florida, the fourth most populous state.

Texas Representative Ron Paul said he will skip campaigning in Florida and focus on the Nevada caucuses, set for Feb. 4.

Understanding Government

Romney and Gingrich sparred yesterday, using broadcast interviews to criticize each others’ qualifications.

Gingrich compared Romney to President Barack Obama, saying both men lacked the knowledge of government needed to be president.

“The president of the United States has to understand the government of the United States,” Gingrich said on CBS. “President Obama clearly didn’t, and frankly I doubt if Governor Romney would.”

Addressing a packed rally of supporters in Ormond Beach, Romney pointed to a 1997 ethics investigation into Gingrich when he was House speaker.

“He was a leader for four years as speaker of the House and at the end of four years it was proven that he was a failed leader and he had to resign in disgrace,” he said. “His fellow Republicans -- 88 percent of his Republicans -- voted to reprimand Speaker Gingrich.”

He also reiterated calls for Gingrich to release his contract with Freddie Mac, accusing the Georgia lawmaker of lobbying for the mortgage company and other organizations after announcing his resignation from Congress in 1998.

Working as Lobbyist

“He talks about great bold movements and ideas,” Romney said. “What’s he been doing for 15 years? He’s been working as a lobbyist.” Gingrich has said he never lobbied and has described his work as that of a historian.

Still, Romney said Gingrich had a “good week” in South Carolina. Giving in to pressure from Gingrich and others in his party, Romney agreed to release his 2010 tax return and 2011 estimates on Jan. 24, saying the issue had become a distraction.

“We just made a mistake in holding off as long as we did,” Romney said on Fox. He said the return and the estimate will be posted on the Internet.

Romney, a multimillionaire former private-equity executive, had been dogged by questions about why he was refusing to provide his tax returns until April, when the party’s nomination battle may effectively be over.

Gingrich commended Romney for promising to disclose the records, during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” yesterday.

‘No. 1 Mission’

“If there are things in there that can be used against him, we better know it before the nomination,” Gingrich said. “The last thing Republicans want to do is nominate somebody who collapses in September. Beating Barack Obama has to be the No. 1 mission of the Republican Party.”

Gingrich, who has worked as a health-care and housing policy consultant, released his 2010 returns on Jan. 19, becoming the first of the four remaining Republican contenders to do so. The returns showed he earned $3.1 million in 2010 and paid an effective federal tax rate of about 32 percent, about double the 15 percent rate Romney said he paid.

Speaking on NBC, Gingrich said he was aware of nervousness among Republicans triggered by his rise in the public-opinion polls.

“We intend to change the establishment, not get along with it,” Gingrich said. “I’m happy to be in the tradition of Ronald Reagan as the outsider who scares the Republican establishment. And, frankly, after the mess they’ve made of things, maybe they should be shaken up pretty badly.”

Discipline and Temperament

Some elected Republicans and party leaders have warned that the outspoken former House speaker from Georgia lacks the discipline and temperament to lead their party.

New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie, who endorsed Romney in October, said yesterday Gingrich humiliated the party when he was speaker, citing Gingrich’s $300,000 payment in 1997 to resolve allegations of giving misleading information in the ethics probe.

“He was run out of the speakership by his own party,” Christie said on NBC. “This is a guy who has had a very difficult political career at times and has been an embarrassment to the party.”

The fourth remaining Republican primary contender, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, called Gingrich a “high-risk candidate” and said Romney is “no longer the inevitable” contender to win the nomination.

Santorum’s campaign may hamper Gingrich’s efforts to consolidate fiscal and social conservatives as both compete for voters seeking an alternative to Romney. As the South Carolina results became clear, Santorum said he would stay in the race and campaign in Florida.

“Our feeling is that this is a three-person race,” he said on CNN yesterday. “We think we present the best opportunity for conservatives to win.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Jacksonville, Florida at llerer@bloomberg.net; Julie Bykowicz in Washington at jbykowicz@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.