HIALEAH, Fla. — Mitt Romney dispatched his top surrogates Sunday on the campaign trail and in the press to drive back attacks from Newt Gingrich.
At an energetic rally in the Miami suburb of Hialeah, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said she expected some mudslinging in the American political process, but that Gingrich had gone over the line.
"One ad that particularly irks me is attacking the strong pro-life record of Gov. Romney," she said. "Gov. Romney is a wonderful new believer — for a while now — of the pro-life cause, and he was a champion for pro-life in the state where it took great courage to stand up for pro-life values.
Ros-Lehtinen appeared to be referring to an ad that Gingrich's campaign aired in South Carolina that claimed that Romney changed positions from supporting to opposing abortion rights, yet still "governed pro-abortion."
Earlier in the day, Gingrich had taken to the Sunday talk shows to accuse Romney of lying and of "carpet-bombing his opponents."
“This party is not going to nominate somebody who is a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax-increase liberal,” Gingrich said on ABC News's “This Week."
Romney's campaign blasted out statements in quick succession from Romney's most high-profile supporters to defend not his policies, but his character.
"Mitt Romney’s moral fitness for office is beyond reproach and is a major reason that I am so pleased to support his campaign," said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who had appeared on the campaign trail with Romney the day before.
Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzWhen political opportunity knocked, Jason Chaffetz never failed to cash in Chaffetz resting after 'successful' foot surgery Lawmakers reintroduce online sales tax bills MORE (R-Utah), another Romney supporter who has taken to shadowing Gingrich's campaign events to provide a counter-narrative, said Newt's assaults represented a "desperate attempt to save his campaign" that would not be effective. And former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.), who dropped out of the presidential race in August before endorsing Romney, said Romney demonstrated "integrity beyond reproach" during his work as governor of Massachusetts and the head of the Salt Lake City Olympics.
"I know Mitt Romney," said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a rising star in the GOP. "I know the kind of father he is, grandfather he is, and husband he is. I have seen Mitt Romney with his kids — and even with my own."
New polls out this weekend in Florida, which will hold the next presidential contest on Tuesday, show Romney with a 10 to 15 point lead over Gingrich. But Romney is hoping that an overwhelming victory on Tuesday can help him close the door on his GOP rivals and lock up the presidential nomination.
Romney's ability to trumpet support from a wide range of surrogates has helped him build the case that his nomination is inevitable and his widespread appeal. He rarely makes a campaign appearance without at least one big-name figure at his side.
Gingrich has his own high-profile supporters, including Michael Reagan, the adopted son of President Ronald Reagan who is campaigning with Gingrich in Florida, and former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who made the case for Gingrich Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
But it is difficult for Gingrich to compete with Romney's star power. Romney has racked up endorsements from 73 members of Congress, while Gingrich has nine members in his camp.
- This post was updated at 6:50 p.m.
Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) rallies for Mitt Romney Sunday in Hialeah, Fla.