Newt Gingrichâ€™s ad campaign has released an aggressive web video accusing Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney of attempting to â€śmislead, distort and deceiveâ€ť ahead of Floridaâ€™s presidential primary.
The 63-second internet advertisement, published as Mr Gingrich struggles to gain traction in Florida, turns a harsh spotlight on his rivalâ€™s integrity, accusing him of duping voters with a series of alleged falsehoods during Thursdayâ€™s Â Republican presidential debate.
â€śWhat kind of man would mislead, distort and deceive just to win an election?â€ť the narrator asks. â€śThis man would,â€ť the voice-over concludes, as an image of Mr Romney appears on the screen.
Bouncing back after losing the South Carolina primary to Gingrich on Saturday, Romney had an 8-percentage point lead over him in a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Friday.
A Quinnipiac University poll gave him a 9-percentage point edge. The Reuters/Ipsos online poll gave Romney 41 percent and Gingrich 33 percent ahead of Saturday’s contest.
That margin is similar to three polls released on Thursday that all showed Romney taking control of the battle in Florida, where the former Massachusetts governor enjoys a financial and organizational advantage over Gingrich.
The video shoots down Romney’s claim that he has always voted Republican with reference to the 1992 Massachusetts primary, when Romney voted for a “liberal Democrat” instead of Pat Buchanan or George H.W. Bush.
It also presents evidence that conflicts with claims he made last Thursday relating to his personal financial investments. â€śIf we canâ€™t trust what Mitt Romney says about his own record, how can we trust him on anything?â€ť the web ad asks.
Romney’s campaign released a statement condemning the ad, saying “Gingrich’s desperate smears have already been called ‘inflammatory’ by Marco Rubio and ‘ridiculous’ by Jeb Bush.”
“It is laughable to see lectures on honesty coming from a paid influence peddler who suffered an unprecedented ethics reprimand, was forced to pay a $300,000 penalty, and resigned in disgrace at the hands of his own party,” the statement said.
“Speaker Gingrich is desperate to distract from his record of failed and unreliable leadership in an attempt to try and prop up his sinking campaign.”
Romney battered the former House of Representatives speaker in two debates this week, wounding him in the same format that has helped fuel Gingrich’s campaign.
Tuesday’s Florida primary is the fourth contest in the state-by-state battle for the Republican nomination to challenge President Obama, a Democrat, in the November 6 U.S. election.
Romney won in New Hampshire and former Senator Rick Santorum won the first contest in Iowa.
Romney repeatedly attacked Gingrich at Thursday’s debate in Florida, scoring points on immigration, candidates’ finances and even lunar exploration.
“That was Romney on Red Bull,” Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said. “You could tell Newt was tired, he’s carrying a heavy load. He was counting on pure momentum to carry him through Florida, and that momentum has stopped.”
At a campaign event in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Romney reminded the crowd of his debate performance. “How about that debate last night? Wasn’t that fun?” Romney asked. “I’ve had the fun of two debates where I had to stand up and battle, and battling was fun.”
An energized Romney, whom Gingrich has described as the most anti-immigrant candidate in the Republican race, won several standing ovations from the Hispanic crowd in Miami earlier on Friday.
“There is a time coming soon when Cuba will be free,” Romney told them, adding “America can’t sit back” in dealing with the island nation off the coast of Florida.
Gingrich received a much quieter response, once again mocking Romney’s call for “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants as “a fantasy. It’s not a solution.”
Gingrich said the concept might work for younger illegal immigrants who had been in the United States a short time, but not for older immigrants with deep family ties. They should be allowed to apply for citizenship through local councils similar to draft boards, he said.
A Florida win for Romney would put him in a strong position to capture the nomination as the primary map tilts in his favor in February with contests in seven states where he has the potential for strong showings.
Next up on February 4 is Nevada, where Romney won with 51 percent of the vote during his failed 2008 presidential bid. On February 7 Minnesota and Colorado hold caucuses and Missouri holds a primary. Gingrich did not make the ballot in Missouri.
Four of the states with February contests – Nevada, Maine, Colorado and Minnesota – use caucus systems, which often require greater organization to rally voter turnout. That could help Romney take advantage of his superior financial and staff resources.
On February 28, Michigan and Arizona hold primaries. Romney was raised in Michigan, where his father was a governor and car executive.