“Well, I’m here as a citizen, and I frankly don’t care what the Washington establishment thinks of me because I intend to change them,” Gingrich said, prompting cheers and chants of “Newt! Newt! Newt!” from a crowd that the local sheriff’s department estimated at 1,500.
“That’s true. We have to ultimately focus on beating Barack Obama, but we’re not going to beat Barack Obama with some guy who has Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island accounts, owns shares of Goldman Sachs while it forecloses on Florida and is himself a stockholder in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while he tries to think the rest of us are too stupid to put the dots together to understand what this is all about.”
In a mocking release, Romney’s campaign labeled Gingrich “Dr. Newt and Mr. Hyde” — the latter, they said, showed up at the Mount Dora event Thursday morning — and accused him of leading an “Occupy Mount Dora” rally against free enterprise. Composed almost entirely of quotes from news accounts of the event and other Gingrich attacks on Romney’s wealth, the release included just one quote from a Romney staffer: “Wow,” said communications director Gail Gitcho.
Gingrich’s tone reflected how high the stakes are in Florida just four days ahead of the Republican primary here. Hoping to ride a wave of momentum from his huge win in South Carolina last weekend, Gingrich echoed the anger and edge that he displayed in the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses in early January, when a pro-Romney group was hammering him with millions of dollars in negative ads — and where he finished a distant fourth.
But if Gingrich’s anger reflected the challenges of a moment when he is again under assault, it also reflected a potential opportunity to — again — turn the story around. In Florida this week, Gingrich has demonstrated a strong network of tea party support, where his efforts to cast Romney as the insider and himself as the insurgent have played well with huge crowds. He will have another moment to do so Thursday in a televised debate in Jacksonville, the final such event before Tuesday’s primary.
The moment is challenging for Romney, too, whose campaign is trying to regain momentum lost in South Carolina and has stepped up the intensity of its attacks on Gingrich’s work as a Washington consultant. Romney has also begun sending out a team of high-profile surrogates to shadow Gingrich at his public events and provide real-time rebuttals to the press.
“It’s laughable for him to cast himself as an outsider,” said U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who along with fellow Romney supporters Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) trailed Gingrich across Florida on Thursday. “He could not get elected speaker of the House right now. He is an unreliable leader who was pushed out the door. He has more scandal surrounding his personal life and his professional life than we should have in our nominee.”