Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich fires back at a protester… (PAUL J. RICHARDS / AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Mount Dora, Fla. — Hours before they would meet in a crucial debate, a furious Newt Gingrich lashed out at GOP rival Mitt Romney on Thursday, accusing the former Massachusetts governor and his supporters of slinging a “sea of mud” that is dishonest, hypocritical and impacting his fortunes in Florida.
“I am angry, and every American should be angry,” Gingrich told reporters after a morning rally. “How can somebody run a campaign this dishonest and think he's going to have any credibility running for president?”
Romney and Gingrich are locked in a furious battle less than a week away from this state’s Tuesday primary. Romney and his supporters are hammering Gingrich for the work he did for Freddie Mac, arguing that the former House speaker was effectively lobbying for the federally backed mortgage guarantor that many Republicans blame for the housing crisis. Gingrich has denied such claims, and slapped back on Thursday, noting top advisors to Romney used to lobby for the entity, and that Romney made money from investments in companies that profited from foreclosures in Florida.
“What level of gall does it take to think that we collectively are so stupid that somebody who owns lots of stock in Fannie and Freddie Mac, somebody who owns lots of stock in a part of Goldman Sachs that was explicitly foreclosing on Floridians, somebody who is surrounded by a lobbyist who made a living protecting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, can then build his entire negative campaign in Florida around a series of ads that are just plain false, because they are counting on us being too stupid or too timid?” Gingrich asked hundreds of supporters at a tea party rally on the picturesque shores of Lake Dora.
He slammed Romney’s past, noting that the former Massachusetts governor gave money to Democrats, voted for Democrat Paul Tsongas for Senate, and was once a registered independent who said he didn’t want to “go back to the Reagan-Bush years.”
“He won't tell you that now because he is counting on us not having YouTube. That's how much he thinks we are stupid. Well, we are not stupid,” Gingrich said. “The message we should give Mitt Romney is: 'We aren't that stupid and you aren't that clever.' "
Weaving populism and rage against the Washington establishment into his remarks, Gingrich said Romney would not beat President Obama if he becomes the GOP nominee.
“We have to ultimately focus on beating Barack Obama, but we’re not going to beat Barack Obama with some guy who has Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island accounts, owns shares of Goldman Sachs while it forecloses on Florida and is himself a stockholder in Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac while he tries to think the rest of us are too stupid to put the dots together to understand what this is all about,” Gingrich said.
The former House speaker, also being slammed for working with Nancy Pelosi on climate change and for exaggerating his role under President Reagan, said the attack ads by Romney and his supporters are hurting him in Florida. But he said it was the denigration of his work with Reagan, contrasted with Romney’s past support of Democrats, that prompted him to be so “blunt.”
“To have his campaign take on a lifetime of work and lie about it, frankly I do find it infuriating. I think it is one of the most dishonest things I’ve seen in politics,” he told reporters after the rally. “I mean at some level, there ought to be a sense of shame that a person would be this fundamentally dishonest.”
The Romney campaign said Gingrich was doing the work of Democrats.
“Newt Gingrich borrowed talking points from Barack Obama and is using them to attack Mitt Romney’s career in the private sector,” said spokesman Ryan Williams. “Gingrich has been rebuked by conservatives who served under him as speaker, while the Democrats cheered him on. This is who Newt Gingrich is: an unreliable leader who undermines conservatives, hurts our party, and emboldens President Obama and his liberal allies.”
Gingrich is not alone in growing more aggressive in the lead-up to the primary, when 50 delegates are at stake.
The Romney campaign in recent days has been sending high-level Romney backers to Gingrich events to speak to reporters, an unusually forward act in a primary.
On Thursday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah swung by Mount Dora and said Republicans will fail if Gingrich is their standard-bearer.