Gingrich Works To Gain Support In Florida

While Mitt Romney was focused on the president's speech Tuesday, Newt Gingrich was mostly focused on the task at hand: next Tuesday's Republican primary. Addressing a crowd jammed into the booths at St. Petersberg's Tick Tock Restaurant Tuesday morning, the former speaker referred back to Romney's aggressive attacks at Monday night's debate.

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BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: This is Brian Naylor, travelling with the Gingrich campaign. While Mitt Romney was focused on the president's speech tonight, Gingrich was mostly focused on the task at hand, next Tuesday's GOP primary. Addressing a crowd jammed into the booths at St. Petersburg's Tick Tock restaurant this morning, the former Speaker referred back to Romney's aggressive attacks at last night's debate.

NEWT GINGRICH: Romney has a new debate coach, whose specialty is to say as many untrue things as fast as you can to get them all into one or two quick statements. So I thought it was kind of wild.

NAYLOR: Gingrich's debate performance was much on the Speaker's mind today. Usually combative, Gingrich came across as relatively subdued Monday night, a performance he's blaming on the format. He told Fox News this morning that from now on, he'll not take part in debates unless the audience is given a free reign to respond.

GINGRICH: We're going to serve notice on future debates, we won't - we're just not going to allow that to happen. That's wrong. The media doesn't control free speech. People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to. It was almost silly.

NAYLOR: There's another debate scheduled for Thursday night in Jacksonville. Gingrich has been speaking to enthusiastic crowds as he buses down Florida's Gulf Coast. He said he'll need that enthusiasm on primary day.

GINGRICH: I need your help between now and next Tuesday. The fact is, Governor Romney will have vastly more money than I will, but we'll have many more people than he will. This is exactly what happened in South Carolina and people power beats money power every time.

NAYLOR: At one stop this afternoon, the crowd was a little more than enthusiastic, waiting for him at an appearance at a Sarasota airport hangar. One of the warm-up speakers said it was time to send the president back to Chicago. Some in the crowd, though, yelled Mr. Obama should be sent to Kenya. When he took the podium, Gingrich also mentioned the president's impending State of the Union address.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHANTING "KENYA")

GINGRICH: I thought I might suggest a few things that would improve the state of the union. You always have to wonder when Obama speaks which country he thinks he's talking about. You also have to wonder what his source material is.

NAYLOR: Gingrich is clearly buoyed by two new polls showing him ahead of Romney in the state. And the Romney campaign is showing more than a little concern. One of Romney's top surrogates in the state went to the Gingrich rally to urge reporters to dig deeper into Gingrich's work for Freddie Mac.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, with the Gingrich campaign in Florida.

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