(STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images )
Reporting from Jacksonville, Fla. — Kicking off a five-city dash around Florida a day before the state holds a critical primary, Newt Gingrich said on Monday that he was the only GOP candidate who could beat President Obama and slammed rival Mitt Romney as liberal and unable to draw a clean contrast with the Democrat.
“Let me be very clear. Every time we nominate a moderate, we lose. In 1996, we nominate a moderate, Bill Clinton wins reelection by a big margin. In 2008, we nominate a moderate, Barack Obama wins,” he told fewer than 100 supporters gathered in a hotel conference room. “Why would anybody in the establishment think that a Massachusetts moderate, which is a liberal by Republican standards, pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase, pro-gay rights, why would they think he’s going to be able to debate Barack Obama?”
Recent polls show Romney leading Gingrich by double digits, and the former Massachusetts governor and his supporters have vastly outspent Gingrich and are blanketing the airwaves with attack ads. But Gingrich said he felt the momentum turning his way, as it did in South Carolina, where he netted a surprise win Saturday.
“I am very excited. I could feel it over the last three days as we begin to close the gap. Just as we had in South Carolina, there was this huge wave of dishonest Romney ads and for a little bit people backed up and went ‘wow’…and frankly if that stuff was true, I wouldn’t vote for myself,” he said. “And then gradually they started to filter it out, they started to sort it out, they started to realize what’s true and what isn’t true.”
One of the ads that has particularly piqued the former House speaker is one questioning how much he worked with President Reagan. On Monday, Gingrich campaigned with the late president’s son, Michael Reagan, who has endorsed him.
“There has been this question raised by the establishment about whether or not I was really in any way active with Ronald Reagan,” Gingrich said. “I figured if his son was willing to campaign with me, for any person with an open mind, that should settle that issue totally once and for all.”
Reagan cited Gingrich’s track record in Congress as the reason he endorsed the former House speaker.
“I think I owe it to him because of what he’s done for the Republican Party,” Reagan said, highlighting Gingrich’s role in the GOP takeover of the House in 1994. “No one else running for office has done that but he did it.”