Newt, Mitt, taking GOP brawl to Nevada

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DUNEDIN, Fla. — Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich take their brawl to Nevada Wednesday for another round — likely even uglier than the Florida primary here Romney is poised to win Tuesday.

A buoyant, cheerful and loose (for him) Romney all but predicted victory in Tuesday’s Florida primary as he assailed Gingrich at a rally here as a “sad” and “flailing” rival.

Under a cloudless sky and warm weather, the frontrunner spoke to a crowd filling Pioneer Park in this pretty, small town near Tampa.

“With a turnout like this, I’m beginning to feel we might win tomorrow, what do you think?” said Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. Every poll shows Romney with a healthy lead over Gingrich, trailed by Rick Santorum and Ron Paul who also plan a vault to Nevada for the Saturday caucus.

Gingrich, the former House speaker, has been unable to build on his South Carolina victory here. He has been complaining on the stump and in interviews about the nastiness — he calls it Romney’s “dishonesty” — that erupted in Florida.

The days of Gingrich bragging about his positive Iowa campaign seem a distant past, though it was only a few weeks ago.

In Florida, Gingrich was outspent and outmaneuvered by an aggressive Romney operation. Florida’s Tea Party movement never picked a favorite and that probably didn’t help Gingrich either.

Romney noted Gingrich’s complaints and almost seemed to cheerfully taunt him at the Dunedin rally.

“Gosh, you know, I know the speaker is not real happy,” Romney said. “Speaker Gingrich is not feeling very excited these days. . . . I know, it’s sad.

“He’s been flailing around a bit trying to go after me for one thing or the other, you just watch it and you shake your head. It’s been kind of painfully revealing to watch. I think the reason that he isn’t doing so well is because of those last two debates, don’t you think?”

The “real reason” Gingrich struggled in Florida, Romney said — offering pre-victory analysis — was Gingrich’s consulting work for Freddie Mac.

Nevada, as is Florida, has been crippled by the collapse of the housing market. The Romney team jammed Gingrich on his consulting contract with Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage enterprise. Gingrich’s protests that the $1 million went to his firm — and that he worked for Freddie Mac as a “historian” — did not neutralize Freddie Mac as an issue.

Romney made it crystal clear Freddie Mac was not going away. Romney warned that the Republicans cannot beat President Barack Obama in November if their nominee had to carry the baggage of the housing crisis.

Noting Florida’s status as a crucial November general election battleground state in 2012 — reprising a role the state played in 2008 and 2000 — Romney said, “And here in Florida, if you are part of the housing crisis, you’re probably not going to get elected president.”

CNN’s John King asked Gingrich on Monday if he will have a different strategy in Nevada and the other upcoming states.

“I think what you’ll see us do is be very explicit about just how liberal he is and just how dishonest he is,” Gingrich said.

“And I think you’ll see us laying out for the country, you want — you want RomneyCare and ObamaCare? They’re the same person,” Gingrich said, ticking off some new issues he will press, including Romney’s record while governor in dealing with Catholic hospitals and abortion. Gingrich, citing a New York Post story, said he will also bring up Romney cutting off “kosher food for elderly Jews on Medicare.”

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