Mitt Romney, after his loss in South Carolina threw the Republican presidential race into turmoil, called victor Newt Gingrich a Washington insider as the former House speaker said his rival “is running for CEO.”
Making the rounds on the Sunday talk shows, Gingrich, who spent two decades in the U.S. House of Representatives, said Romney lacked the government expertise needed to the president.
“Governor Romney may be running for CEO,” Gingrich said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” program. “I’m running for president.”
Romney, on “Fox News Sunday,” said voters wouldn’t ultimately choose as a nominee “who spent 40 years in Washington as a congressman and a lobbyist.” Romney scrambled to regain his footing in a reshaped primary race, as Republicans confronted the possibility of a prolonged fight for their party’s nomination.
Gingrich’s 12-point win in Saturday’s South Carolina primary largely guarantees a costly and combative campaign in the days leading up to the Jan. 31 Florida primary. Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have picked three different first-place finishers.
The fight is already in progress in Florida. Early voting opened in select counties on Jan. 16 and across the state Saturday. Romney and his allies are paying for a barrage of campaign advertisements in Florida. Monday at 9 p.m. the candidates will meet in a televised debate in Tampa.
The Romney-Gingrich sparring began early Sunday, with both candidates using broadcast interviews to criticize each others’ qualifications for president.
Gingrich compared Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, to President Barack Obama, saying both men lacked the governmental expertise needed to be president.
“The president of the United States has to understand the government of the United States,” Gingrich said on CBS. “President Obama clearly didn’t, and frankly I doubt if Governor Romney would.”
Arriving in Florida Sunday, Romney vowed to make Gingrich’s character an issue in the race.
Speaking on Fox, he said voters will assess Gingrich as “not so conservative,” pointing to a public-service announcement about climate change he taped with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, and his initial opposition to a budget plan passed by House Republicans.
Romney said Gingrich had a “good week” in South Carolina. Giving in to mounting pressure from Gingrich and others in his party, he agreed to release his 2010 tax return and 2011 estimates on Tuesday, saying the issue had become a distraction for his campaign.
Romney, a multimillionaire former private-equity executive, was dogged by questions during the South Carolina campaign about why he’d refused to provide any tax returns until April -- when his party’s nomination battle may effectively be over.
“We just made a mistake in holding off as long as we did,” Romney said on Fox. He said both the return and the estimate will be posted on the Internet.
Gingrich commended Romney for promising to disclose his tax forms, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.
“If there are things in there that can be used against him, we better know it before the nomination,” Gingrich said. “The last thing Republicans want to do is nominate somebody who collapses in September. Beating Barack Obama has to be the No. 1 mission of the Republican Party.”
Gingrich, who has worked as a healthcare and housing policy consultant, released his 2010 returns on Jan. 19, before a televised presidential debate, becoming the first of the four remaining Republican contenders to do so. The returns showed he earned $3.1 million in 2010 and paid an effective federal tax rate of about 32 percent, about double the 15 percent rate Romney said he pays.
Speaking on NBC, he said he was aware of nervousness among Republicans triggered by his rise in the public-opinion polls.
“We intend to change the establishment, not get along with it,” Gingrich said. “I’m happy to be in the tradition of Ronald Reagan as the outsider who scares the Republican establishment. And, frankly, after the mess they’ve made of things, maybe they should be shaken up pretty badly.”
Several elected Republicans have warned that the outspoken former House speaker from Georgia lacks the discipline and temperament to lead their party.
New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who endorsed Romney in October, said Sunday Gingrich humiliated the party when he was House speaker, citing Gingrich’s $300,000 payment to resolve allegations of giving misleading information in a 1997 ethics probe.
“He was run out of the speakership by his own party,” Christie said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “This is a guy who has had a very difficult political career at times and has been an embarrassment to the party.”
Playing into those fears, former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum called Gingrich a “high-risk candidate” and said Romney is “no longer the inevitable” candidate to win the nomination.
His campaign could hamper Gingrich’s efforts to consolidate fiscal and social conservatives, as both compete for voters seeking an alternative to Romney. As Saturday night’s results became clear, Santorum announced plans to campaign in Florida, saying he intends to stay in the race.
“Our feeling is that this is a three-person race,” he said on CNN Sunday. “We think we present the best opportunity for conservatives to win.”
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