Gingrich Says Strong Florida Finish Needed to Save Campaign

Newt Gingrich
Republican Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich speaks to members of the media after visiting Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida on Jan. 29, 2012. Photographer: Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said only a strong finish in Florida’s primary election will save his “totally unique” campaign.

With his campaign down to about $600,000 after his South Carolina primary victory, Gingrich said he trailed Mitt Romney among Florida voters who cast ballots early and he needs a large vote on election day to win the Jan. 31 primary.

“As fast as we’ve raised it, we’re spending it,” Gingrich said in an interview yesterday. Later on ABC’s “This Week” program, he predicted the contest for the Republican presidential nomination would continue until the party’s national convention in August, saying that conservatives will decide they don’t want a “Massachusetts liberal” to be the nominee.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who has estimated his personal fortune at between $150 million and $200 million, has “unending amounts of money,” Gingrich said, while questioning the enthusiasm voters have shown for his rival.

“He always relied on just sheer machinery,” Gingrich said of Romney. “He has no message. There is no reason for a Romney presidency.”

Romney Poll Lead

Romney led Gingrich by 42 percent to 27 percent among likely Republican primary voters, according to an NBC News-Marist poll released yesterday. The survey of 682 likely Republican voters was conducted Jan. 25-27 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent.

A Quinnipiac University poll released today showed similar results, with Romney over Gingrich by 43 percent to 29 percent. The telephone poll of 539 likely Republican primary voters was conducted Jan. 27-29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percent.

Gingrich’s 12-percentage-point victory in South Carolina Jan. 21 initially translated into large audiences for the former U.S. House speaker in Florida. Those audiences have dwindled, including a group of about 70 at an Orlando town hall that was planned in a theater with triple the capacity.

Gingrich said he needs to carry about 52 percent of the vote on election day to compensate for Romney’s edge in early voting and absentee ballots.

“We’re like Apple as compared to Microsoft,” Gingrich said of his and Romney’s campaign. “We’re very agile, we’re very organic, we’re very innovative,” Gingrich said. “And every once in a while we fray at the edges.”

Florida Housing Market

Romney told voters in Naples yesterday that Gingrich’s sinking fortunes in Florida stemmed from the fact that he worked for Freddie Mac, the federally tied home mortgage company, unpopular in a state that has been the site of one-quarter of the nation’s foreclosures.

“The people of Florida have had enough of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and government interference” in the housing market, Romney said at a rally at a square in the city’s upscale downtown, surrounded by boutiques, restaurants and palm trees.

“Mr. Speaker, your problem in Florida is not that the audience is too quiet or too loud,” Romney said in a reference to lackluster debate performances by Gingrich last week, which the former speaker later attributed in part to the responses of attendees. “Your problem in Florida is you worked for Freddie Mac at a time that Freddie Mac was not doing the right thing for the American people.”

Santorum’s Daughter

As Gingrich and Romney fanned out across the state, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, who is running third in recent polls, was at home in Pennsylvania, where his daughter Isabella’s admission to a hospital in Philadelphia forced the cancellation of his events yesterday. Santorum’s campaign said in a statement that he would “resume the campaign schedule as soon as possible.”

U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas isn’t campaigning in Florida, instead focusing on Maine, which will hold caucuses in late February. Paul said yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program that the state is “a real good place for us to break through” and that the ups and downs of the nominating contest so far show the race remains up for grabs.

“The rough road is competing with, you know, establishment money, the big money,” Paul said. “It’s a money game. And I think that’s one of the things that frustrates a lot of people.”

Asked to name the best-run national campaigns he’d seen or been a part of, Gingrich first named President Barack Obama’s primary campaign in 2008. He added Richard Nixon’s in 1972, with the exception of the Watergate scandal, Ronald Reagan’s in 1984 and George H.W. Bush’s in 1988.

Gingrich refused to compare his campaign with those.

‘Unique’ Campaign

“I’m totally unique,” Gingrich said. “My campaign resembles nothing that has ever been run. It’s a very idea-oriented, Internet-based, constantly-evolving,” he said. “It’s organic.”

“Every week we absorb new energy, new people and we figure out five new things,” he said. “It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever done.”

Gingrich offered an explanation for his performance in two nationally televised debates during the week leading to Florida’s primary vote.

“I went into those two debates with one big goal: I didn’t want to get mad enough to lose my poise,” Gingrich said. “I felt that the Romney people had a very deliberate strategy. They’d all been talking about my temperament and they were looking for an excuse.”

Gingrich’s Discipline

“So I just wanted to be very calm no matter what,” he said. “I spent a lot of my energy just staying disciplined.”

If he appeared tired, he said, he was simply “staring in amazement” at Romney in debate.

“I’m standing there thinking to myself, ‘You think you can lie your way to the presidency? You think it’s possible in America today, even to be this dishonest?’” Gingrich said.

Gingrich said he held a conference call with his campaign team at 11:15 p.m. after the second debate on Jan. 26.

“By the next morning we had an ad up that begins to demonstrate and you’re going to see more stuff like this,” Gingrich said. “We’re going to demonstrate again and again this is not a man who can be honest, because if he is honest his campaign is over.”

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