PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — On the weekend before the pivotal Florida primary, Newt Gingrich vowed on Saturday to stay in the race for the Republican presidential nomination until the national convention this summer even if he loses Tuesday’s vote. Front-runner Mitt Romney poured on the criticism of his rival in television ads airing across the state.
Gingrich’s pledge, in an already remarkably unpredictable race, raised the prospect of an extended struggle inside the party as Republicans work to defeat President Barack Obama in the fall. “You just had two national polls that show me ahead,” he said. “Why don’t you ask Gov. Romney what he will do if he loses” in Florida.
As the two rivals made their appeals to Hispanic, Jewish and tea party voters, veterans of the armed forces and others, all known indicators pointed to a good day for Romney in the primary.
He and his allies held a 3-1 advantage in money spent on television advertising in the race’s final days. Robust early vote and absentee ballot totals followed a pre-primary turnout operation by his campaign. Even the schedules the two men kept underscored the shape of the race — moderate for Romney, heavy for Gingrich.
Campaigning like a front-runner, Romney made few references to Gingrich. Instead, he criticized Obama’s plans to cut the size of the armed forces. “He’s detached from reality,” the former Massachusetts governor said.
“The foreign policy of ‘pretty please’ is not working terribly well,” he added. Romney said he wants to add 100,000 troops, not cut them.
If his personal rhetoric was directed Obama’s way, the television commercials were trained on Gingrich, whose victory in last Saturday’s South Carolina primary upended the race for the nomination. A new ad released as the weekend began is devoted to the day in 1997 when Gingrich received an ethics reprimand from the House while serving as speaker and was ordered to pay a $300,000 fine.
Nearly the entire 30-second ad consists of NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw’s nationally broadcast description of the events on the evening news. “By an overwhelming vote, they found him guilty of ethics violations; they charged him a very large financial penalty, and they raised — several of them — raised serious questions about his future effectiveness,” Brokaw said that night, and now again on televisions across Florida.
Both NBC and the former newsman registered objections. The network called on the campaign to stop using the footage and Brokaw said in a statement, “I do not want my role as a journalist compromised for political gain by any campaign.”
A Romney adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, said the campaign wasn’t likely to stop running the ad. “We believe it falls within fair use,” he said. “We didn’t take the entire broadcast; we just took the first 30 seconds.”
Whatever its impact, the ad represented part of a barrage that Gingrich could not match.
Figures made available to The Associated Press showed Romney was spending $2.8 million to air television commercials in the final week of the Florida campaign. In addition, a group supporting him, Restore Our Future, was spending $4 million more, for a combined total of $6.8 million.
Officials said the total of absentee and early vote cast approached 500,000, about 200,000 of them before Gingrich won in South Carolina last weekend.