Romney Criticizes Gingrich: He Resigned In 'Disgrace'

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is campaigning in Florida following a big loss over the weekend to Newt Gingrich in the South Carolina primary. Romney told a crowd that Gingrich resigned in disgrace after four years as speaker of the House.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. President Theodore Roosevelt compared politics to a kaleidoscope. With every turn of the wheel, the picture would completely change. Well, the Republican presidential race so far amounts to one long demonstration of that idea.

INSKEEP: In the last few days, Mitt Romney has gone from the inevitable Republican nominee to something less. Rick Santorum was declared the belated winner of Iowa. And then Newt Gingrich won a thunderous victory in South Carolina.

GREENE: And now Mitt Romney has about a week to pull out a victory in Florida.

NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from Tampa.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The Mitt Romney that showed up in Florida last night was not the one that left South Carolina yesterday morning. The old Mitt Romney rarely criticized his Republican rivals on the stump - certainly never by name. The old Mitt Romney exclusively contrasted himself with President Obama - never with other Republican candidates. And the new Mitt Romney?

Well, take a listen.

MITT ROMNEY: So I've had the experience of leadership. Now, Speaker Gingrich has also been a leader. He was a leader for four years as speaker of the – speaker of the House.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOS)

ROMNEY: And at the end of four years it was proven that he was a failed leader. And he had to resign in disgrace. I don't know whether you knew that.

SHAPIRO: That may sound like typical primary battle sniping. But it's not at all typical for Romney on the stump. And he was just warming up.

ROMNEY: He actually resigned after four years in disgrace. He was investigated under an ethics panel and had to make a payment associated with that, and then his fellow Republicans, 88 percent of his Republicans, voted to reprimand Speaker Gingrich.

SHAPIRO: Then Romney turned his attention to how Gingrich has spent his time since leaving office.

ROMNEY: He talks about great bold movements and ideas. Well, what's he been doing for 15 years?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Lobbying.

ROMNEY: He's been working as a lobbyist, yeah. He's been working as a lobbyist and selling influence around Washington.

SHAPIRO: Gingrich disputes that characterization. He says he was a consultant and a historian, but never a lobbyist. One of the most controversial companies Gingrich worked for was the housing giant Freddie Mac, and Romney issued a challenge.

ROMNEY: I would like him to release his records. What was his work product there? What was he doing at Freddie Mac? Because Freddie Mac figures in very prominently to the fact that people in Florida have seen home values go down.

SHAPIRO: In a way this is tit for tat. Gingrich spent the last few weeks attacking Romney for failing to release his tax records. First, Romney would not say whether he would release them. Then he promised to release them in April. And after his South Carolina shellacking, he finally told "Fox News Sunday" that on Tuesday he will release his 2010 tax returns and an estimate for 2011.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

ROMNEY: I think we just made a mistake in holding off as long as we did. It just was a distraction. We want to get back to the real issues in the campaign.

SHAPIRO: Romney is one of the wealthiest men ever to run for president, so there will be some big numbers coming. At yesterday's rally in Ormond Beach, his wife Ann was the only one to mention the tax returns.

ANN ROMNEY: I understand Mitt's going to release his tax forms this week and...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

A. ROMNEY: ...I want to remind you where we know our riches are. Our riches are with our families.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: The audience cheered as the sun set behind the Romneys. The crowd did not seem demoralized by the fact that their man has now lost two of the three primary contests.

CHRISTINE RAUSCH: I think it's unexpected if you expected too much.

SHAPIRO: Christine Rausch is a letter carrier for the postal service. She's confident that Romney will win Florida and ultimately the nomination. She likes his Mormon faith. But she acknowledges that his religion may have hurt him with some South Carolina voters.

RAUSCH: It's going to hurt him all kinds of places. That exact part of his life is going to hurt him in many places.

SHAPIRO: Retired pilot and veteran Edward Davis says Romney's cloudy weekend may even have a silver lining.

EDWARD DAVIS: I was kind of disappointed in what happened in South Carolina, but I think it's a good wake-up call for him.

SHAPIRO: Why do you say that?

DAVIS: Because I think that, hmm, he got too, how do you say it?

SHAPIRO: A little comfortable?

DAVIS: A little comfortable. And now he's going to have to go to work. And I think he's the man to do it.

SHAPIRO: If work means attacking the other Republicans in the race, then Mitt Romney had a vigorous first day on the job.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Tampa, Florida.

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