PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Another day, another skirmish between a high-profile Mitt Romney supporter and Newt Gingrich’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond.
For much of the week, the Romney campaign has sent a team of surrogates to follow Gingrich across Florida and provide real-time rebuttal for the press. The surrogates include House members Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Connie Mack (Fla.), Mary Bono Mack (Calif.) and Charlie Bass (N.H.).
In several instances, Hammond has engaged in a little political theater by marching over to the surrogates — reporters and TV cameras in tow — to try to provoke a confrontation. On Saturday, the showdown occurred at a Gingrich rally on a golf course here, with Hammond facing down Connie Mack to talk about who would make the better president.
But Mack was ready for him; the surrogates have gotten so used to the drill that they seem almost to linger at Gingrich’s events in hopes of a visit from Hammond. When Hammond came over, Mack quickly began browbeating him about Gingrich’s work for Freddie Mac, the federally backed mortgage giant that paid him $1.6 million for consulting work.
“Is he a lobbyist?” Mack asked. “The Florida voters deserve an answer about what kind of influence he’s been peddling. He won’t answer. Instead he belittles them.”
On Friday, Hammond got into it with Chaffetz, saying to a scrum of reporters: “Hey! Let’s go over and see the congressman. Come on, everyone!” During their exchange, Hammond asked Chaffetz if he wanted a seat on Gingrich’s charter plane. When a reporter asked him whether it was appropriate to speak to a congressman that way, he responded: “Sure. He’s a citizen like everyone else. I think we’re pointing out the fact that the Romney campaign is running scared. They’re looking for any opportunity to distort.”
The Romney supporters didn’t quite see it that way. They said their purpose was not to disrupt or even to speak to voters, but merely to offer commentary to the news media about Gingrich’s events. They also ridiculed Hammond’s confrontations and said they were evidence of a sinking campaign.
“I think this is a sign that not only is Newt erratic, but his campaign is erratic,” Mack said. “They’re kind of coming unhinged the crowds are smaller. You’ve got people back here supporting Mitt Romney. I think the campaign knows they’re in trouble.”
At another event in Orlando, the Macks didn’t even bother to stay for Gingrich, who was running 45 minutes late for a Hispanic town hall with a crowd numbering only in the dozens. “This is getting ridiculous,” Connie Mack said as he and his wife walked back to their car.