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Romney attacks Gingrich on Freddie Mac work, ties rival to Florida housing slump

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TAMPA — Mitt Romney will use the backdrop of Florida’s depressed housing market to launch a fresh offensive against rival Newt Gingrich here Monday, highlighting his consulting work for Freddie Mac and calling on him to publicly release his records relating to the mortgage giant.

As the dramatically reshaped Republican presidential race centers on Florida this week, Romney will air a television advertisement in the state designed to expose Gingrich as a hypocrite. The ad will contrast the former House speaker’s claims not to be a lobbyist with the $1.6 million to $1.8 million in consulting fees he reportedly was paid for his work with Freddie Mac, according to a Romney campaign official.

“Newt Gingrich says he was not a lobbyist — he was just a politician who was paid millions after he left Congress to influence his friends in Washington,” Romney campaign communications director Gail Gitcho said. “When it comes to his work for Freddie Mac, we still have more questions than answers. Speaker Gingrich should immediately make his Freddie Mac contract and work product available to the public.”

Romney intends to attack Gingrich for his work with Freddie Mac at a housing-themed round-table session in Tampa on Monday morning and, at a media availability shortly thereafter, plans to call for Gingrich to release his work product with the firm, the official said.

Two Romney surrogates, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and Florida’s state House speaker designate Will Weatherford, have scheduled a Monday conference call with reporters — which the campaign playfully titled the “Definitely Not A Lobbyist” call — to discuss Gingrich’s work with the firm.

Gingrich was paid between $1.6 million and $1.8 million in consulting fees over the past decade, according to a Bloomberg News report last November. When Gingrich came under attack for his ties to Freddie Mac in a December debate, he said he “never lobbied under any circumstance.”

“The truth is, I was a national figure who was doing just fine, doing a whole variety of things, including writing best-selling books, making speeches. And the fact is, I only chose to work with people whose values I shared, and having people have a chance to buy a house is a value I believe still is important in America,” Gingrich said at the Dec. 15 debate in Sioux City, Iowa.

With the coordinated assault, the Romney campaign is trying to use Gingrich’s work with Freddie Mac against him in Florida, a state rocked by the subprime mortgage crisis. This comes as Romney himself is escalating his anti-Gingrich rhetoric to blunt some of Gingrich’s momentum and put him on the defensive heading into Monday night’s NBC debate in Tampa.

“Over the last 15 years since he left the House, he talks about great, bold movements and ideas,” Romney told a Sunday evening rally in Ormond Beach, Fla. “Well, he’s been working as a lobbyist, yeah, he’s been working as a lobbyist and selling influence around Washington.”

“He’s been working for Freddie Mac. Heard of those guys?” Romney continued, eliciting boos from the audience. “He said he’s been a historian. I would like him to release his records. What was his work product there? What was he doing for Freddie Mac? Because Freddie Mac figures in very prominently to the fact that people in Florida have seen home values go down.”

Romney also is trying to shift the transparency spotlight to his rival, after spending a week grappling with questions about his income-tax returns, which he initially was reluctant to release, then decided to release in April and later said he would release on Tuesday.

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