Attn.: Fla. () —
Ashley Parker contributed reporting from Pensacola, Fla.
c.2012 New York Times News Service<
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Despite facing recent setbacks, Newt Gingrich pledged on Saturday to stay in the nominating fight until the end, vowing to a group in central Florida, "We're going to the convention."
Gingrich made the remarks in Brooksville as he has faced a torrent of criticism from establishment Republicans and a recent decline in the polls, and as he comes off two debates in which his main opponent, Mitt Romney, has been more agile and aggressive.
Gingrich predicted a "wild and woolly" campaign ahead as he barreled through a series of speeches and town-hall-style meetings on Florida's affluent "Treasure Coast" before the state's primary on Tuesday.
At the same time, his campaign was eagerly watching as a backlash started to develop against the attacks focused on him orchestrated by elements of the Republican establishment that have rallied around Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination.
The Romney team and its supporters have portrayed Gingrich as erratic, unhinged and too temperamental to be president. They also say that Gingrich has no chance of beating President Barack Obama in November.
These attacks have prompted Sarah Palin, among others, to rush to Gingrich's defense.
The establishment is "trying to crucify this man and rewrite history," Palin told Fox News, referring to the Romney camp's attempts to cast Gingrich as someone who was not as close to President Ronald Reagan as he has claimed.
Palin also excoriated conservative writers who have denigrated Gingrich, including George Will and Peggy Noonan, who called Gingrich an "angry little attack muffin."
Palin's comments followed those of the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who assailed the Romney team on Thursday for organizing a "coordinated attack" against Gingrich. Referring to the attempt to decouple Gingrich from Reagan, Limbaugh said: "That kind of stuff is why people hate Romney so much."
Trailing Romney in some polls in Florida, Gingrich is broadcasting a pair of tough advertisements here against him while also preparing for a long campaign that he hopes will be reinvigorated when the race reopens in Nevada, which holds its caucuses on Saturday.
"I fully expect the next couple of weeks to get wild and woolly," Gingrich said Friday night, according to The Palm Beach Daily News. He spoke at a private fundraiser at the home of Gay Gaines, a longtime friend and former chairman of GOPAC, a fundraising organization that recruited and trained local Republican candidates for higher office.
At a rally on a golf course here under a brilliant warm sun on Saturday, Gingrich said he was "very proud to run on a Reagan-Gingrich record," drawing enthusiastic applause from a crowd of about 150 people standing around in shorts and flip-flops.
Gingrich has not projected the kind of confidence he did before the South Carolina primary last week, when he swept to an unexpected victory.
He said Saturday that he would "do well" in Florida, and without predicting that he would win here, he told the crowd: "If we win Florida, I will be the nominee."
At a rally for Romney on Saturday in Pensacola, the crowd that greeted him, stretching from dock to dock and leaning over the balconies at the Fish House, was treated to several cameos before an energetic and sunny candidate took the stage.
Up first was the actor Jon Voight, a supporter of various Republican candidates and conservative causes and the father of Angelina Jolie, who does not share her father's political views. Romney said that when he first spoke to Voight on the phone, he was nervous making "chitchat" with a well-known actor, and so he talked about his five sons and how raising boys was harder, he thought, than raising daughters.
Voight's response: "Tell me about it," Romney recalled, to laughter.
Voight, however, had tougher words for Obama. Romney, he said, "is strong, honest and wants to bring the country back to its exceptional place where we have been for hundreds of hundreds of years, until President Obama decided to follow his father's footsteps and take us to socialism."
Sen. John McCain of Arizona pressed the case against Gingrich, who in recent weeks has attacked Romney on various fronts, including over his time at Bain Capital, a private-equity firm.
''I do not understand — do you? — why anyone would attack a person who's successful in business in the free-enterprise system," McCain said. "That is a sign of desperation. A desperate candidate is a candidate who attacks someone who succeeds in the free-enterprise system."
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Romney also used his 15-minute address to attack Obama, a shift from recent days, when he has divided his focus between the current occupant of the White House and Gingrich.
He mentioned Gingrich only once, to gloat slightly about his own strong debate performances in Florida this week.
''Now my most fun the other day was going to a debate, wasn't that fun?" he said. "This last one, Speaker Gingrich said he didn't do so well because the audience was so loud. The one before, he said he didn't so well because the audience was too quiet. This is like Goldilocks, you know. You've got to have it just right."