The Washington Times - January 23, 2012, 04:11PM

TAMPA, Fla — Newt Gingrich pushed back against Mitt Romney’s criticism of the consulting work the former House speaker did on behalf of Freddie Mac, saying that the former Massachusetts governor has moved from spouting “pious baloney” to spouting “desperate baloney.”

“If you have been campaigning for six years and you begin to see it slip away, you get desperate, and when you get desperate, you say almost anything,” he said, before relating Mr. Romney’s remarks to mystery meat. “We’ve gone from Romney’s pious baloney to Romney’s desperate baloney,” he said. “As president, he will be able to open a delicatessen.”

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Mr. Gingrich was referring to the Romney camp’s call earlier Monday for Mr. Gingrich to release the consulting contracts he received from Freddie Mac. They accused Mr. Gingrich of hiding the fact that he benefited from home foreclosures in Florida by working as a lobbyist, earning a reported $1.6 million from the housing mortgage giant.

Along the way, Mr. Romney mocked Mr. Gingrich’s argument that he advised Freddie Mac as a “historian.”

“By the way, saying that Newt Gingrich is a lobbyist is just a matter of fact,” Mr. Romney said. “He indicates that he doesn’t fall within the narrow definition of lobbyists that he might have in mind. But if you’re working for a company, getting paid for a company through one of your many entities and then you’re speaking with congressmen in a way that would help that company, that’s lobbying. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

Mr. Gingrich’s “baloney” remark is a reference to a Jan. 8 debate in which the former House speaker urged his rival to “drop … the pious baloney.”  

Fresh off his win in the South Carolina primary, the once written-off Mr. Gingrich walked onto the stage set up in a church parking lot with his wife, Callista, and the Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now” blaring.

“Callista and I had a pretty good Saturday in South Carolina,” he said, sparking applause from the crowd. “We hope to have a pretty good Tuesday here in Florida.”

Mr. Gingrich did not address whether he plans to release the contracts he held with Freddie Mac.

But he did get baited into a brief exchange with a woman in the audience who disagreed with his claim that he was a “Reagan conservative.”

Mr. Gingrich told the crowd that the GOP presidential fight is a sequel to the 2010 Senate race here in the Sunshine State — with him playing the role of Marco Rubio, the tea party favorite and eventual winner, and Mr. Romney wearing the shoes of Charlie Christ, the moderate Republican who fell out of favor with conservative activists.

“The gap between a genuine conservative and Barack Obama is wide,” Mr. Gingrich said, warning that the universal health care plan that Mr. Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts would make it hard for him to draw a clear distinction between his record and that of President Obama in a general election.

Rick Santorum used the same argument against Mr. Gingrich last week, pointing out that the Georgia Republican, for more than a decade, supported a federal health insurance mandate, which conservatives loathe.