Gingrich Attacks Front-Runner Romney
GUY RAZ, HOST:
Just a little more than a day left before voters in Florida have their say in the GOP primary. The latest polls by the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times show Mitt Romney with an 11-point lead over Newt Gingrich, with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul trailing far behind. Newt Gingrich, who's had trouble getting support from establishment Republicans, picked up a nod from a decidedly non-establishment figure - one of his former rivals, Herman Cain.
HERMAN CAIN: I hereby officially and enthusiastically endorse Newt Gingrich for president of the United States.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
RAZ: Gingrich has been campaigning hard this weekend, so has Romney, both men fixing the other in his sights. This morning at a news conference, Gingrich had this to say about the latest polls.
NEWT GINGRICH: The most significant thing in both the polls this morning is that when you add the two conservatives together, we clearly beat Romney. And I think Romney's got a very real challenge in trying to get a majority at the convention. We will go all the way to the convention. I believe the Republican Party will not nominate a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase moderate from Massachusetts.
RAZ: Meanwhile, in Naples, Florida, Mitt Romney explained why he thought Gingrich was losing support.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
MITT ROMNEY: So, Mr. Speaker, your trouble in Florida is not because the audience is too quiet or too loud, or because you have opponents that are tough. Your problem in Florida is that you worked for Freddie Mac at a time that Freddie Mac was not doing the right thing for the American people.
RAZ: We're joined now by our correspondent Don Gonyea. He's in The Villages. It's north of Tampa in Florida. Don, describe first of all what The Villages is.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: We're in the central part of the state, and one of the guys who's doing security outside the Gingrich event here, he says there are 85,000 retirees who live here. He said it's the biggest such community in the world. Everything you need is here. A lot of people driving around in golf carts. There's one going past me right now. Single family homes. And you have to be 50 years old, I'm told, to move in here.
RAZ: Got to be a pretty significant, politically powerful place, right, especially at this time of year. I'm assuming all the candidates at some point have been through there.
GONYEA: This is not my first visit to The Villages, this year or in past years. I came through here with George W. Bush. I came here with John McCain. This is a place where you have this concentration of senior citizens, and, of course, that's a very important voting block in Florida. They are active, they vote. A good many of these people here I've talked to have already voted. They've already mailed in their ballots, because they have early voting here. But it's a place where a politician can get a lot of bang for their buck with an appearance.
RAZ: Don, we can hear Newt Gingrich speaking behind you. What are people there telling you about Newt Gingrich? I mean, is the momentum still there, or is it kind of dying down?
GONYEA: This is a friendly crowd here, of course. It's a rally. They've turned out to see Newt. So overwhelmingly, they're Gingrich supporters. But you can feel the momentum that he had coming out of South Carolina has really waned. It's a much different scene here than it was in South Carolina.
RAZ: OK. If Gingrich loses as badly as the polls predict he'll lose in Florida, I mean, is this going to be his waterloo? I mean, I'm not talking about Waterloo, Iowa, Don.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
RAZ: We have seen him rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall again. But if he crashes in Florida, I mean, is it different than losing Iowa or New Hampshire?
GONYEA: He can say he's going to go on from here, but he does have to prove that South Carolina was not a fluke for him. And he does not have a lot of money. He does not have a lot of organization. That's been evident here in Florida. And from here, we start to move into caucuses. And we move towards Super Tuesday, where you have multiple contests scattered around the country in multiple states. And you just can't do that by turning in a winning debate performance or by holding town halls. You really have to have the money and organization to speak to people. So once we get out of Florida, it gets a lot harder to do the kind of thing he did in South Carolina.
RAZ: And, of course, the winner of Florida gets a lot of delegates, all of the delegates in Florida.
GONYEA: This is a winner-take-all state, though there is some dispute over how the delegates will be apportioned with the national party. Florida has been kind of butting heads with the national party, both in terms of the delegates and in terms of when they would go on the calendar. But, yes, this is the biggest state to go yet, the biggest prize yet, and the biggest test of an organization and the kind of cash one has on hand.
RAZ: I know that you are with the Gingrich campaign right now, Don, obviously, but you're also following the Romney people. What are they up to today?
GONYEA: Governor Romney has been in Naples and Hialeah, and he ends his day in Pompano Beach. So he's working the state hard, too, and he's being joined by surrogates. He's had John McCain with him. And what we've seen from Romney is much tougher rhetoric aimed directly at Newt Gingrich than we've seen in any of the prior states. And it seems to be paying off big-time for him in the polls, at least.
RAZ: He seems to have shaken off the South Carolina fright. He seems very confident.
GONYEA: It does feel like it is a different Mitt Romney. And again, if Mitt Romney goes on and gets the nomination, we may look back to Florida as the place where he figured out kind of what Mitt Romney the candidate has to look like, has to act like, has to talk like on the stump.
RAZ: That's NPR's national political correspondent Don Gonyea joining us from The Villages in Florida. Don, thanks so much.
GONYEA: It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.