Later Sunday, Romney’s wife, Ann, stepped up ahead of the release of his tax returns to tell Floridians “where we know our riches are.”
“Our riches, you can value them in the children we have and in the grandchildren we have,” she said. “That’s where our values are, that’s where our heart is and that’s where we measure our wealth.”
Although Romney’s surrogates have questioned the thrice-married Gingrich’s character, the candidate himself has rarely brought it up. In the Sunday interview and rally here, Romney drew a sharp contrast with Gingrich.
“I believe leaders have integrity,” Romney said at the rally here. “I believe they’re people of sobriety, judgment, thoughtfulness, reliability, high ethical standards — all the elements of leadership, I think you’re going to have to look at as Floridians.”
Romney said Gingrich has spent the last 15 years since resigning as speaker “selling influence around Washington.” He called on Gingrich to release his records as a consultant to Freddie Mac and tried to blame him for the housing crisis.
“What was his work product there?” Romney said. “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’s advisers said he intends to confront Gingrich aggressively at the Monday debate and will lay out their policy differences in an economic-themed speech Tuesday.
“It’s a very, very different race moving onto Florida now,” said Stevens, the Romney strategist. “It’s a contrast between a governor with executive experience, a businessperson, versus solutions from Washington. It takes a while sometimes for that to come into focus, but that focus isn’t going to go away.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a Romney supporter who has been campaigning with him, said Gingrich’s two failed marriages and recent interviews with his second wife, Marianne, in which she alleged that Gingrich asked for an “open marriage,” would hurt Gingrich in the Florida contest.
“If we put up anything less than a Boy Scout, we’re gonna be in trouble,” Chaffetz said in an interview. “I don’t believe that voters in Florida will find that media bias trumps serial philandering.”
Gingrich angrily denied his ex-wife’s claim at last Thursday’s debate in an electric exchange with the moderator that was seen as helping him win over undecided voters. Among the biggest surprises of Gingrich’s South Carolina win was his wide support among women, suggesting he may have dispensed with a topic long thought to be a weakness for him — his history of extramarital affairs.
Gardner reported from Washington. Staff writer Rosalind Helderman contributed from Coral Springs, Fl., and staff writer Sandhya Somashekhar contributed from Washington.