In an interview with The Washington Post, Gingrich said he was stunned by Romney’s debate performance the previous evening, which he characterized as “the most blatantly dishonest performance by a presidential candidate I’ve ever seen.”
Gingrich’s campaign is at a crucial juncture in Florida, where he has seen his fortunes reversed just days before Tuesday’s primary. Gingrich arrived here with momentum after his huge win in South Carolina, but a Quinnipiac poll released Friday showed that Romney had regained a solid lead.
The Quinnipiac poll, conducted Jan. 24 to 26, shows Romney leading Gingrich 38 percent to 29 percent among likely GOP voters in Florida. A poll taken days earlier and released Wednesday showed Romney barely ahead of Gingrich, 36 percent to 34 percent.
Gingrich has struggled to raise money and build organizations in some of the critical primary states, and it is unclear how he will be able to continue if he loses in Florida.
Romney delivered his most aggressive debate performance of the campaign in Jacksonville on Thursday, rebuking Gingrich for criticizing his wealth. The former Massachusetts governor called it “repulsive” that Gingrich accused him of being “anti-
immigrant.” Romney also mocked Gingrich’s proposal to colonize the moon.
Romney declared the debate a victory on Friday. “How about the debate last night? Wasn’t that fun?” Romney said to a few hundred supporters inside Astrotech, a space operations company here.
Romney’s superior resources were on full display as his campaign sent a team of surrogates, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), to shadow Gingrich on Friday to offer real-time rebuttals to his remarks.
The Romney campaign matched Gingrich’s every move with one of its own and issued a long rebuttal to his new ad.
“It is laughable to see lectures on honesty coming from a paid influence peddler who suffered an unprecedented ethics reprimand, was forced to pay a $300,000 penalty, and resigned in disgrace at the hands of his own party,” wrote Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “Speaker Gingrich is desperate to distract from his record of failed and unreliable leadership in an attempt to try and prop up his sinking campaign.”
As Romney’s campaign tried to seize the advantage, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin weighed in with a Facebook post decrying the “cannibals” of the Republican Party trying to discredit Gingrich.
“I am in favor of contested primaries and healthy, pointed debate,” Palin wrote. “They help focus candidates and the electorate. I have fought in tough and heated contested primaries myself. But what we have seen in Florida this week is beyond the pale.”