Craig Eisele on …..

January 22, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 12:55 am

G.O.P. Turns Its Focus to Florida

A drastically reshaped Republican presidential campaign begins anew in Florida on Sunday as the party’s establishment confronts the likelihood of an extended and bitter leadership fight and the increasing possibility that Newt Gingrich could be its nominee.

Mr. Gingrich’s stunning victory over Mitt Romney in South Carolina on Saturday all but ensured 10 days of intense campaigning in Florida, which holds its primary on Jan. 31. Adding to the urgency: voters in Florida have already started mailing in absentee ballots.

A blitz of the television advertisements in Florida has begun, and the candidates are set to arrive there today. They face yet another nationally televised debate on Monday night in Tampa, Fla.

For some veterans in the party, Mr. Gingrich’s victory increased the very possibility that some of them fear — that the combative and volatile Mr. Gingrich with whom they had worked in Washington would become the new face of the party.

Speaking on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” on Sunday morning, Mr. Gingrich acknowledged those concerns and said he wore them as a badge of honor as he pushed forward toward the nomination. “The establishment is right to be worried about a Gingrich nomination,” he said. “We are going to make the establishment very uncomfortable. We are going to demand real change in Washington.”

Some of Mr. Gingrich’s former colleagues have warned — often anonymously — that he cannot be trusted to lead the party, or the country. “Newt’s absolutely brilliant,” an admirer who negotiated with him in Congress told The Daily News of New York on Saturday night. “He has 100 ideas; 97 are real good, the other three will blow up the world.”

Mr. Gingrich said he was not surprised by that kind of reaction, but he dismissed it as the same kind of nervousness that some in the party’s establishment exhibited when Ronald Reagan was first running for national office. “I’m happy to be in the tradition of Ronald Reagan as the outsider who scares the Republican establishment,” Mr. Gingrich said. “And frankly, after the mess they made of things, maybe they should be shaken up pretty badly.”

Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Romney also did not wait to engage each other as the Florida campaign got under way. Both men appeared on Sunday morning talk shows, seeking an advantage by hammering the other’s experience and character.

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Romney said that Mr. Gingrich “has some explaining to do,” among other things, about a global warming public service announcement he taped with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Mr. Romney said that despite the results in the South Carolina primary, Republican voters will not ultimately choose as a nominee “who spent 40 years in Washington as a congressman and a lobbyist.”

The former Massachusetts governor also questioned Mr. Gingrich’s “sobriety” and “steadiness.”

“He’s not as reliable a conservative leader as some people might imagine,” Mr. Romney said of Mr. Gingrich, the former House speaker.

But Mr. Romney conceded that Mr. Gingrich had a “good week” politically in South Carolina, while he had not. And Mr. Romney bowed to mounting pressure from Mr. Gingrich and others to release his tax returns, saying he will do so on Tuesday.

“We made a mistake in holding off as long as we did,” Mr. Romney said, adding that the issue had become a distraction. “We’ll be putting our returns on the Internet. People can look through them.”

Mr. Gingrich said on Sunday morning that Mr. Romney’s decision is “a good thing. I commend Governor Romney for doing it.”

Having last week attacked Mr. Romney for refusing to release his taxes, Mr. Gingrich said on C-Span’s “Morning Journal” program that it was time to move on.

“As far as I’m concerned, that issue is behind us,” Mr. Gingrich said.

Gov. Christopher Christie of New Jersey, perhaps Mr. Romney’s most prominent supporter, had some very sharp words against Mr. Gingrich, saying on NBC’s “Meet the Press, “I think Newt Gingrich has embarrassed the party over time.”

“He was run out of the Speakership by his own party,” the governor said. “He was fined $300,000 for ethics violations. This is a guy who’s had a very difficult political career at times and that has been an embarrassment to the party. You remember these times, you were here.”

Mr. Romney appeared on Fox News and dismissed concerns that with the release of his tax returns, he might lose support when voters learn how much money he had donated to the Mormon Church. He said he had made a promise “to God” to tithe 10 percent of his income to his church.

He said voters would be “pleased with someone who made a commitment to God and followed through on the promise.”

Mr. Gingrich’s large margin of victory in South Carolina erased whatever momentum Mr. Romney might have earned from an equally large win in New Hampshire 10 days earlier. The first three contests, including the Iowa caucuses, have provided little clarity for the fractured party, handing a victory to three different candidates, with the belated recognition last week that Rick Santorum won in Iowa.

Mr. Santorum, who came in third in South Carolina but pledged to go on to Florida, continued to lash out at his rivals on Sunday, calling Mr. Romney a “moderate” and accusing Mr. Gingrich of being an erratic leader.

“That’s not a choice between a conservative and a moderate. It’s a choice between a moderate and an erratic conservative, someone who on a lot of the major issues has been just wrong,” Mr. Santorum said on the ABC News program “This Week.”

Mr. Santorum reserved especially aggressive language for Mr. Gingrich, calling him a “very high-risk candidate” who will undermine the policies of Republicans on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.

But Mr. Santorum also said that Mr. Romney no longer had an aura of inevitability.

“I’ve beaten Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich has beaten Mitt Romney,” Mr. Santorum said. “The idea that conservatives have to coalesce in order to beat Mitt Romney, well, that’s just not true anymore. Conservatives actually can have a choice.”

Mr. Santorum dismissed the idea that the results in South Carolina made it harder for his campaign to move forward. He said the fact that different candidates had won each of the first three states gave his candidacy a real lift.

“If you don’t like the state of the play of the race right now, just wait until the next race,” Mr. Santorum said. “And we’re going to see a completely different story. And that’s the dynamism of this race.”

But many Republican leaders held their fire immediately after Mr. Gingrich’s South Carolina victory.

Karl Rove, the former top political adviser to President George W. Bush, said on Fox News on Saturday night that Mr. Gingrich needed “to broaden this message of ‘He’s the Massachusetts moderate and I’m the conservative.’ ”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Rove added that Mr. Gingrich’s attacks on the news media — while popular among Republican primary voters — would cause him problems with independents during a general election matchup with President Obama.

“It does create a little bit of problem with independent voters in the general election,” Mr. Rove said, noting that those voters are concerned with jobs, the economy and health care.

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, indicated on Saturday night that he would remain neutral in the primary.

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