The Washington Times - February 1, 2012, 01:47AM

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich lost the Florida primary on Tuesday night to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The defeat was a blow to Mr. Gingrich who came in 14 points behind Mr. Romney in a distant second place in the winner take all primary state. Mr. Gingrich could not roll his momentum from South Carolina into Florida.

A Rasmussen poll reported one week ago, “Romney held a 22-point lead over Gingrich in Florida two weeks ago, but new Rasmussen Reports polling released Monday shows the former speaker with 41% support now among likely GOP primary voters in the Sunshine State with Romney in second at 32%. The Florida Primary is on January 31.”

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Where did Mr. Gingrich’s momentum disappear to all of a sudden? After all, Florida is not as moderate as New Hampshire and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was not living in the sunshine state last year and touring the state’s every county.

The Gingrich camp may have relied to heavily on Speaker Gingrich to out debate Governor Romney in Florida. After all, Gingrich solidified a massive lead over Romney in South Carolina after Gingrich cleverly took on debate moderators at the CNN and Fox News Channel debates. Furthermore, Senator Santorum was key in pointing out some of the weakest points in Romney’s Massachusetts healthcare plan.

Romney originally had a 20-point lead in South Carolina, but it quickly collapsed. Unfortunately the Gingrich camp did not adjust their campaign strategy in Florida for the possibility that debate circumstances would be different. The idea that Romney could possibly improve in his own debate style may have seemed improbable in their minds.

However, the Romney campaign was determined to make their candidate stronger on stage during debates after the loss in South Carolina. They called upon Brett O’Donnell, an award winning debate coach to help Romney prepare for the Florida debates. The move helped Mr. Romney’s performance and Mr. Gingrich was caught off-guard by Governor Romney’s more aggressive and sharper responses.

Moreover, Gingrich failed when he tried to take on CNN debate moderator Wolf Blitzer. Blitzer asked if he would like to reiterate a remark he made on a cable network about Governor Romney’s Freddie Mac investments and Gingrich declared it a “nonsense question.”

“But, Mr. Speaker, you made an issue of this, this week, when you said that, ‘He lives in a world of Swiss bank and Cayman Island bank accounts.’ I didn’t say that. You did … if you make a serious accusation against Governor Romney like that, you need to explain that.”

Using Gingrich’s own words against him was something that the Romney campaign took seriously when they employed an unusual tactic against the Gingrich camp. The moment the Gingrich landed in Florida, lawmakers from Washingtonwho were Mitt Romney supporters began showing up at Newt Gingrich campaign stops.

Rep. Connie Mack, Florida Republican, Rep. Mary Bono Mack, California Republican, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, and Rep. Charlie Bass, New Hampshire Republican would take turns appearing at Gingrich events by standing in the back near the press. Media outlets would be drawn to the high profile pro-Romney GOP’ers while Speaker Gingrich spoke to his supporters.

Mr. Gingrich announced in early December thathe wanted to challenge President Obama to seven Lincoln-Douglas style debates. He said that he would follow Mr. Obama everywhere he went to rebut the president’s remarks

“I will announce that as of this evening, the White House will be my scheduler, and wherever the president goes I will show up four hours later to respond to his speech.”

Surprised by the Romney surrogates’ constant arrival at pro-Newt events, Mr. Gingrich sent out his spokesman R.C. Hammond to interrupt the pro-Romney lawmakers’ interviews with the press and debate them in front of media. While the counter-tactic was amusing, it put the Gingrich campaign on the defensive more than anything else.

Gingrich meet and greets with his supporters went smoothly for the most part. However, on primary day it took his advance team and security several minutes and photo ops later to remove a Ron Paul supporter who was standing behind the speaker with a prominently placed Paul sign for the all the photographers to catch.

Gingrich remained on the defensive, as Romney shot up in the polls in Florida. Stories questioning Speaker Gingrich’s true political relationship with President Reagan continued to surface. An endorsement from President Reagan’s son, Michael, came too late in the game after too many organizational missteps were likely made.

In fact, the endorsement Mr. Gingrich received from former presidential candidate Herman Cain received little national media coverage, because his traveling press was not at the event to cover it. The Gingrich campaign gave no indication that the event was an endorsement related affair, and the cost per reporter to travel on the charter plane to the event was too expensive for just one event, so media outlets told their reporters to not take the charter plane to the event.

The Gingrich campaign sent their traveling media embeds back to their Tampa hotel on the press bus. Two hours later, Mr. Gingrich’s national media watched Mr. Cain endorse the speaker on an internet video web stream, as they traveled to Tampa.

While tensions between Gingrich press staff and his press embeds were high at that point, eventually both the Gingrich campaign bus and press bus reunited for the final days of the campaign. To make matters worse, Gingrich staff made him less available to the press.

Newt is forging forward and while Nevada is not the state where he is likely to pick up momentum again, if he wants to find another surge, he should be ready and willing to adapt to new political environments. Gingrich told reporters he believes the primary can go on for another five months unless Romney drops out. How will Mr. Gingrich handle the political reality that Romney appears to already Nevada in the bag?  “I have no idea. I have not looked at Nevada yet. I’ve been paying all my attention here (in Florida),” Gingrich said to me outside a Florida polling station on Tuesday.

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