Reporting from Panama City, Fla. — Building on the energy of a crowd that numbered in the hundreds at a shipbuilding yard Saturday afternoon, Mitt Romney renewed his attacks on rival Newt Gingrich, who drew a comparatively paltry crowd at an event across the state in Orlando.
The Romney campaign has pounded Gingrich with allegations that he exaggerated his accomplishments and prominence in the Republican Party during the 1980s. On Saturday in Panama City, Romney called Gingrich “a very nice fellow” but said his career as a historian “doesn't give him the right to rewrite history.”
“He was given the opportunity to lead our party” Romney said, referring to Gingrich’s tenure as House speaker in the 1990s.
“He failed!” a supporter in the crowd yelled to the candidate.
“You're right, he failed,” Romney continued. “We allowed him to lead our party…. We took over the House; that was great news. What happened four years later? Well, he was fined for ethics violations. He ultimately had to resign in disgrace. He can't rewrite history. We have to go back and look at history and say he may be a great guy with a lot of great ideas, but he is not the leader we need at a critical time.”
Romney’s new lines echoed the message of his new ad that amounts to a rebroadcast of a 1997 video clip in which then-NBC "Nightly News" anchor Tom Brokaw reported on Gingrich being sanctioned by House colleagues after an ethics investigation.
Gingrich has bitterly disputed Romney’s version of the events and has accused the former Massachusetts governor of being dishonest about his record. Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond sent an email to reporters Saturday morning calling the ad “another big lie from the Romney campaign.”
Hammond said the Romney campaign had omitted the fact that the IRS “cleared Speaker Gingrich of the substance of the ethics committee investigation” and he has called the charges politically motivated.