FORT MYERS, FL - Sinking in the polls ahead of Tuesday’s Florida primary election, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich adopted an optimistic tone during remarks to supporters at a Fort Myers rally late Monday. Gingrich cited an unspecified poll showing that the race is “now tied,” telling the crowd that with their help, he “absolutely can win” the state. In a stump speech filled with harsh criticisms of both Gov. Mitt Romney and President Obama, Gingrich also hinted that he was prepared to wage a lengthy nomination fight, calling the Florida contest the “very beginning of this process.”
As the Republican candidate for president criss-crossed the Sunshine State in eleventh hour campaigning, Gingrich was peddling a two-pronged message: First, that President Obama must be defeated in November, and second, that he is the only “Reagan conservative” in the race capable of defeating the incumbent. “I don’t see how a Massachusetts liberal will do better than the moderates we ran in 1996 in 2008,” Gingrich said, comparing Romney unfavorably to unsuccessful Republican nominees Bob Dole and John McCain. The only way to prevent Romney from attaining the party’s nod “is to vote for me,” he argued – an indirect swipe at fellow remaining candidates Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul.
Gingrich repeatedly took direct aim at the frontrunner Romney, calling his rival’s character into question and accusing the former Massachusetts governor’s attack ads “pathetic” and “profoundly false.” The former House Speaker sought to frame Tuesday’s election as a struggle between a “grassroots populist conservative” – himself – and “the [Washington] establishment,” which he suggested includes members of both political parties. To boost his own grassroots credibility, Gingrich cited recent comments from Gov. Sarah Palin, and touted the endorsement of her husband, Todd. He also had enlisted the help of two “special guests” at the Fort Myers gathering, former presidential candidate Herman Cain, and Michael Reagan, the former president’s youngest son.