- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2012

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, facing slipping poll numbers ahead of this week’s crucial Florida primary, lashed out Sunday at his main party rival, Mitt Romney, accusing him of “carpet-bombing” the airwaves with attack ads.

Mr. Gingrich blamed his lousy poll numbers partially on Mr. Romney’s bulging campaign war chest, telling “Fox News Sunday” that the former Massachusetts governor’s money allows him to have “a policy of carpet-bombing his opponent.”

“He doesn’t try to build up Mitt Romney. He just tries to tear down whoever he’s running against, and it has an effect,” Mr. Gingrich said. “We are in a very tough campaign down here” in Florida.

The momentum Mr. Gingrich gained after winning the South Carolina GOP primary Jan. 21 largely has evaporated amid the pounding he has sustained from Mr. Romney’s campaign and the pro-Romney super PAC called Restore Our Future. They have spent some $6.8 million in ads criticizing Mr. Gingrich in the Florida campaign’s final week.

Mr. Gingrich pushed back at a Romney campaign ad that includes a 1997 NBC News report on the House’s decision to discipline the House speaker for ethics charges, saying he was vindicated in every single “substantive count” in the ethics investigation.

“He’s run a campaign of vilification,” Mr. Gingrich said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “I don’t quite know how you deal with an opponent [like Mr. Romney] because you want to deal with them with civility, you want to deal with them in a positive way. I want to talk about big issues.”

Results of an NBC/Marist poll released Sunday showed Mr. Romney leading Mr. Gingrich 42 percent to 27 percent in Florida. Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was third with 16 percentage points, followed by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas with 11 percentage points. About 4 percent said they were undecided.

A survey conducted for the Tampa Bay Times and other Florida news organizations released late Saturday showed Mr. Romney ahead of Mr. Gingrich by 11 percentage points.

Mr. Gingrich said Republican voters in the Sunshine State still favor a conservative candidate like himself over Mr. Romney. He said he and Mr. Santorum are splitting the conservative vote.

“When you combine the Santorum vote and the Gingrich vote … the conservative combined would clearly beat Romney,” Mr. Gingrich said on “This Week.”

The former House speaker added that a “moderate” like Mr. Romney never would beat President Obama in the general election.

“We tried a moderate in 1996 for president. He lost. We tried a moderate in 2008 for president. He lost,” Mr. Gingrich said on “This Week,” referring to former GOP presidential nominees Bob Dole and John McCain.

“You need to have a conservative who is a very big distance away from Obama, because you’ve got to have the space so that, in fact, you can communicate with the American people.”

Mr. Gingrich predicted that the race “is going to go on all the way to the convention” in August in Tampa, Fla.

“I think clearly the conservatives and the grass roots are increasingly angry about the way in which the Washington establishment has rallied in many ways with complete dishonesty,” he said on “This Week.” “As that deepens, the conservatives are going to come together and decide they do not want a Massachusetts liberal to be the Republican nominee.”

The Romney campaign used proxies to rebut Mr. Gingrich on Sunday, issuing several statements from supporters defending the former governor’s record and character. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Mr. Gingrich’s attacks were “over the line.”

“I have spent a lot of time with Mitt Romney, and I can tell you with zero hesitation that he is a man of flawless character,” Mr. Pawlenty said.

Another missive from the Romney camp quoted Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell as saying he was “very disappointed to hear Speaker Gingrich make comments today that impugned Gov. Romney’s character.”

Mr. Gingrich collected the weekend endorsement of Herman Cain, a tea party favorite and former presidential hopeful whose White House effort derailed amid sexual harassment allegations.

“Speaker Gingrich is not afraid of bold ideas,” Mr. Cain said.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry endorsed Mr. Gingrich when he bowed out of the race in South Carolina.

The Cain endorsement, while not unexpected, comes at an opportune time for Mr. Gingrich. A win in Florida would do wonders to boost his national image and a campaign war chest much smaller than Mr. Romney‘s.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Mr. Santorum stayed home in Philadelphia to be with his hospitalized daughter and is canceling campaign stops in Florida. His 3-year-old, Bella, has a potentially fatal genetic condition known as Trisomy 18.

Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley said the candidate hopes to return to a campaign schedule soon. Mr. Santorum also canceled his appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.