TAMPA, Fla. – Mitt Romney this morning ramped up his criticism of Newt Gingrich, calling him an unstable leader and suggesting that the former House speaker could have engaged in “potentially wrongful activity of some kind” by not registering as a federal lobbyist.
“He’s gone from pillar to post almost like a pinball machine -- from item to item in a way which is highly erratic,” Romney said at a press conference here, offering a preview of his posture for tonight’s NBC debate. “It does not suggest a stable, thoughtful course which is normally associated with leadership.”
Romney renewed his calls for Gingrich again to return the $1.6 million he received from Freddie Mac, and called on him to release records of any advice he provided to the mortgage giant.
“We could see an October surprise a day from Newt Gingrich,” Romney said. “So let’s see the records.”
“Let’s see who his clients were,” he added. “At the time he was lobbying Republican congressmen for Medicare Part D, was he working, or were his entities working with any health care companies that could have benefited from that? That could represent not just evidence of lobbying but potentially wrongful activity of some kind.”
Romney suggested that he was referring not to any criminal activity, but to whether Gingrich should have registered as a lobbyist.
“We just need to understand what his activity’s been over the last 15 years, and make sure that it’s conformed with all the regulations that might exist,” he said. “Saying that Newt Gingrich is a lobbyist is just a matter of fact. ….If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.”
Gingrich has claimed that he was not lobbying on behalf of Freddie Mac, and was instead doing consulting work. Appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America” before Romney made his remarks, Gingrich called the attacks Romney was launching false.
“I did no lobbying, period,” Gingrich said. “It’s not true. He knows it’s not true. He is deliberately saying things he knows are false. I just think that’s what the next week will be like.”
Gingrich also said his attorneys were in talks with the Center for Health Transformation – the consulting firm that Gingrich used to run – about releasing records related to his consulting contracts.
Romney’s campaign believes that it can gain traction by tagging Gingrich as a Washington influence-peddler who benefited from the housing crisis that cost many Americans their homes. The campaign also launched its first negative ad this morning, featuring a deep-voiced narrator saying, “While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in.”
In Florida, a state besieged by home foreclosures, Romney is hoping the ties Gingrich has to Freddie Mac will resonate in a way they haven’t in other early-voting states.
Romney this morning participated in a 45-minute roundtable discussion with eight Floridians who had been impacted by the housing crisis. Scribbling on a legal pad during the discussion, Romney listened intently to the tales of unemployment, living in foreclosed neighborhoods, and struggling to refinance homes.
He tried to empathize, and sought to end on an upbeat note.
“Struggling here. Shouldn’t be. You got the best weather around. Good people, good views,” Romney said at the closing.
“Please keep in touch. I was going to tell you my email address, but…” he said, looking toward the large press corps. “We’ll do that later.”Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.