Gingrich goes after Santorum backers

WINTER PARK, Fla. — Newt Gingrich called on supporters here Saturday afternoon to dissuade their friends from voting for Rick Santorum in Tuesday's Republican primary. He argued that only by them voting for Gingrich could a conservative prevail against the more moderate Mitt Romney.

Gingrich and his campaign aides have largely avoided the subject of Santorum's candidacy in the final days of the campaign. But that went out the window at the end of the event, held before an audience of several hundred people at the Aloma Baptist Church.

After placing great emphasis on his personal liking for Santorum, Gingrich went on to say, "The fact is he's not going to win in Florida."

He continued: "There's only one possibility of a conservative winning in Florida, All of you have friends that like Rick. Please just try to convince your friends, the only effective and practical conservative vote on Tuesday is for Newt Gingrich. And that's just a fact."

Gingrich's remarks point to two major factors: first, if the polls are to be believed, he is fighting an uphill battle against Romney in the state; second, peeling off a substantial quantity of Santorum supporters could make the difference between winning and losing. 

Santorum is polling at around 11 percent support among Florida Republicans. The polls show Romney leading Gingrich by around 8 percentage points.

Saturday's Baptist church event also offered at least the third reminder within the past 24 hours of one idiosyncratic advantage Gingrich enjoys. Even though his critics mock his tendency to splurge out ideas by the dozen, that same tendency gives him the capacity to move nimbly among diverse audiences, showcasing positions that are guaranteed to win approval at each event.

Here, to a conservative Christian crowd, Gingrich blasted Planned Parenthood. He also announced that he would "eliminate all funding for any form of stem-cell research that came from the killing of life, period."

Less than two hours before, addressing a Hispanic townhall meeting, he pledged that he would get involved in creating a "Cuban spring," although the details were sketchy on his plans. He also said he would make moves to enact statehood for Puerto Rico if its citizens expressed that wish in a referendum.

Friday afternoon, addressing a Delray Beach meeting organized by the Republican Jewish Coalition, he declared that he would, if elected president, immediately instruct the State Department to open a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, rather than its current location of Tel Aviv. And, in discussing the benefits of a more expansive approach to domestic energy production, he insisted, "I want to get to the point where no American president ever again bows to a Saudi king."

Still, Gingrich's facility with these issues does not guarantee success. His appeal to the churchgoing audience Saturday afternoon, and to the Jewish Republican crowd Friday, brought more than one standing ovation in each instance. His remarks at the Hispanic event, however, were delivered to a very small crowd in a two-thirds empty venue.

Perhaps seeking to make lemonade from lemons, Gingrich spoke from the podium only briefly before announcing that he wanted to meet everyone in the audience individually.

"My competitor on Tuesday has money power," he said, referring to Romney. "What I want to have is people power."


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