POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – Newt Gingrich slammed GOP rival Mitt Romney on Sunday for the steady stream of attacks he likened to “carpet-bombing,” trying to cut into the resurgent front-runner’s lead in Florida in the dwindling hours before Tuesday’s pivotal presidential primary.
And despite surging ahead in polls, Romney wasn’t letting up, relentlessly casting Gingrich as an influence peddler with a “record of failed leadership.”
In what has become a wildly unpredictable race, the momentum has swung back to Romney, staggered last weekend by Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina. Romney has begun advertising in Nevada ahead of that state’s caucuses next Saturday, illustrating the challenges ahead for Gingrich, who has pledged to push ahead no matter what happens in Florida.
An NBC News/Marist poll published Sunday showed Romney with support from 42 percent of likely Florida primary voters, compared with 27 percent for Gingrich.
Romney’s campaign has dogged Gingrich at his own campaign stops, sending surrogates to remind reporters of Gingrich’s House ethics probe in the 1990s and other episodes in his career aimed at sowing doubt about his judgment.
Gingrich reacted defensively, accusing the former Massachusetts governor and a political committee that supports him of lying, and the GOP’s establishment of allowing it.
“I don’t know how you debate a person with civility if they’re prepared to say things that are just plain factually false,” Gingrich said during appearances on Sunday talk shows. “I think the Republican establishment believes it’s OK to say and do virtually anything to stop a genuine insurgency from winning because they are very afraid of losing control of the old order.”
Gingrich objected specifically to a Romney campaign ad that includes a 1997 NBC News report on the House’s decision to discipline Gingrich, then speaker, for ethics charges.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has invested little in Florida, looked ahead to Nevada. The libertarian-leaning Paul is focusing more on gathering delegates in caucus states, where it’s less expensive to campaign. But securing the nomination only through caucus states is a hard task.