TAMPA, Fla. – Newt Gingrich, holding his first event in Florida since he won the South Carolina primary and came under a blistering assault from Mitt Romney, dismissed his rival’s attacks today as the acts of a desperate candidate.
“It’s such baloney,” Gingrich told a modestly sized crowd of several hundred voters in a plaza outside The River Church. “It used to be pious baloney. But now it’s just desperate baloney... Pretty soon, he’ll be able to work in a delicatessen.”
“Pious baloney” was the memorable phrase Gingrich used several weeks ago during a debate in New Hampshire to mock Romney’s claim that he wasn’t a career politician.
Today, Gingrich used his outdoor rally today to brace Floridians for what is expected to be a brutal week of attacks and counterattacks leading up to the primary on Jan. 31. The increasingly heated confrontation between Romney and Gingrich could come to a head tonight, at a debate scheduled 9 p.m. in Tampa.
“If you’ve been campaigning for six years, and you begin to see it slip away, you get desperate, and when you get desperate, you say almost anything,” Gingrich said of Romney. “And I think, in tonight’s debate, he will probably stretch the barrier of almost anything.”
Hoping to stop Gingrich’s rise, Romney today launched a tough new ad that accuses the former speaker of “cashing in” on the foreclosure crisis by striking a lucrative consulting deal with Freddie Mac, while Florida homeowners struggled.
Gingrich did not address the substance of that or other attacks today, leaving that task to J.C. Watts, a former congressman and Gingrich supporter, who held a press call to refute Romney’s charges about an hour before Gingrich’s rally.
During the rally, Gingrich was interrupted by a woman in the audience who yelled, “You’re not a Reagan conservative!”
Gingrich looked briefly stunned.
“I’m not a Reagan conservative?” he exclaimed. “Did you know Ronald Reagan?”
As the crowd hooted in disapproval of the woman, Gingrich defended his Reaganite credentials.
“Well, in 1980, I was campaigning for him and in 1981, I helped pass his program,” he said.
Security staffers escorted the woman out of the plaza. As she was being hustled out, she told a crowd of reporters that her name was Diane Barrios, and that she was a Democrat opposed to Gingrich’s “right-wing extremism.”
Wrapping up his rally, Gingrich sought to solidify his image as an insurgent challenging the establishment favorite, Romney.
“I think people power, once again, will beat money power,” he said.
Michael Levenson can be reached at email@example.com.