“One thing I know he was doing is he was standing up as the former speaker of the House and someone many people respected as a conservative leader. He was standing up and defending Freddie Mac,” he told the gathering of a few hundred people. “And so conservatives in Congress and conservatives around the country, instead of arguing to get rid of these entities, to scale them back and let the free market work, they said, ‘Well, if Newt Gingrich thinks it’s a good idea, then we ought to go along with it.’
“You get paid, and then you go out and say things that influence other people,” Romney continued. “That’s the nature of what’s been going on in this country. It is wrong. We can’t have influence peddlers leading our party.”
As the tug-of-war over outsider status continued, advisers to Gingrich pushed hard on the comparisons between Romney and Crist, saying their similarities speak to the overall dynamic of the race — and will resonate in Florida.
“Charlie Crist was the establishment candidate,” Mallea said. “He was well-funded. He had all the high-profile endorsements.”
But Gingrich, like Rubio, “has a bold agenda and wants to go to D.C. and shake things up,” he added.
Not every voter agrees. Bob Ide, 60, a retired insurance man from Cape Coral, said the Freddie Mac contract proves that Gingrich is not the outsider he has portrayed. “It was basically a kickback. It was that kind of money, basically just to be their friend.”
“He’s no outsider — he’s been running for president for years,” said Ide, who supports Romney. He said the tea party will play a role, “but the election is bigger than them.”
“Republicans are charged, Democrats are charged,” Ide said. “It’s going to be wild.”
Staff writer Philip Rucker in Washington contributed to this report.