Newt Gingrich on the campaign trail with spokesman R.C. Hammond, right.… (Matt Rourke, Associated…)
Reporting from Port Saint Lucie, Fla. — Dubbed the "proxies with moxie," Mitt Romney's congressional backers have been crashing Newt Gingrich's events to offer a counterpoint to the former House speaker's remarks. It's an unusual tactic to begin with, but their collisions with Gingrich's testy spokesman, R.C. Hammond, have made their sparring into the campaign trail's version of must-see TV.
Gingrich said he doesn't mind their presence, which he said is a sign of desperation by Romney.
"They send a member of Congress, we send R.C. It's a slight overmatch — R.C.'s a little bit more informed than they are, but nonetheless, it's fine with me. He can send as many members as he wants," Gingrich told reporters. "When he gets tired, we'll bring Toby back, and Toby's agreed to help R.C. take a hit."
Toby is Hammond's dog.
And that about sums up the tenor of the exchanges. Take one between Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Hammond in Mount Dora on Thursday, when a discussion of a congressional ethics investigation of Gingrich turned into an aside about the Thomas system, the Library of Congress' online database.
"Do you know how to use the Thomas system? Have you looked up the report?" Hammond asked.
A bemused Chaffetz replied, "I know you're shaking, you're nervous. I know he should provide all those documents."
Hammond persisted: "So have you ever used the Thomas system to look up the report? Have you ever read it?"
"Really?" Chaffetz said. "This is what you've got to ask me? Have I looked at the Thomas system?"
Hammond continued: "Again, you haven't confirmed if you know how to use the Thomas system. Newt invented it when he was speaker."
"He invented it?" Chaffetz said. "Did he invent the Internet too?"
"No," Hammond responded. "He did come up with the database."
"That's interesting," Chaffetz said.
Chaffetz has been joined on the trail by Reps. Connie Mack of Florida, Mary Bono Mack of Palm Springs, Charles Bass of New Hampshire and others.
Two days earlier, Connie Mack showed up at Gingrich rally in Sarasota and started talking to reporters about Gingrich's dealings with Freddie Mac, the federally backed mortgage guarantor. Gingrich's consulting firm was paid handsomely by the organization that many Republicans blame for the housing meltdown, but he insists he did no lobbying for them and that Freddie Mac was interested in his historical knowledge.
"The people in the state of Florida had their homes devalued or lost their homes. They want to know what the relationship was, and I think they deserve that answer," Mack said.
Hammond interrupted: "What hasn't he said so far?"
Mack said, "He hasn't said anything."
Hammond responded that Gingrich released a contract, and Mack noted it was only for one year.
"Let me ask you a question," Mack said. "Twenty-five thousand dollars a month for historical work. You think anybody's buying that? Nobody's buying that."
Hammond replied, "Freddie seemed to be."
"Well, they're paying him," Mack said.
On Friday, Hammond was speaking to reporters in Delray Beach when he spotted Chaffetz on the other side of a room.
"Let's go see the congressman," he said. "C'mon, everybody."
"So, where are you going next? Do you have tomorrow's schedule?" Hammond said to Chaffetz. "Are you going to be on our charter to go up to Tampa? No?"
Chaffetz said he had arranged transportation.
"Personal responsibility is very important," he said, later adding, "See you at the next event."