JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — On Monday morning, Newt Gingrich got a boost in his battle to present himself as the true heir to Ronald Reagan. The former president's son, Michael, introduced Gingrich at his first campaign event of the day at a downtown hotel here.
"This election is about freedom," Michael Reagan said. "Speaker Gingrich is a man who will fight for those freedoms."
Reagan also compared the current struggle between Gingrich and the forces gathered around Mitt Romney to the one fought between his father and "Rockefeller Republicans" a generation ago.
Monday morning, Gingrich said that Romney's campaign had outspent his own in Florida by "between four and nine to one, depending on how many weeks you measure" and that many of its ads had been "totally dishonest."
On the Reagan question, he added that if "his son was prepared to campaign with me then, for any person with an open mind, that should settle that issue once and for all."
Gingrich's comments about being outspent are part of a pre-emptive effort to minimize the effect of a defeat in Tuesday's primary. Gingrich has faded badly in recent polls in Florida, the clear majority of which show Romney with a double-digit lead.
The former Speaker seized on one poll Monday morning that showed him trailing by just five points as evidence that "we have closed the gap."
But more revealing was an unusual parallel that he drew with Reagan. He noted that, in 1976, Reagan had lost the first five primaries before his campaign against incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford caught fire.
The comparison to Gingrich's own campaign — which has one victory to its name and which, he now insists, will go all the way to the Republican National Convention in August — was unmistakable. (It is, however, not an entirely positive analogy from Gingrich's perspective, since Reagan lost to Ford in 1976 before becoming the GOP's nominee and winning the presidency four years later.)
"The idea that the conservative movement is going to roll over and give up?" Gingrich said Monday morning. "It's not going to happen."
The Romney-Gingrich fight has turned increasingly bitter in recent days, with both men questioning the honesty of the other.
The spiral into all-out enmity took another twist Monday morning as the Gingrich campaign launched a new website that it said was designed to track Romney's shifting positions. The website's name is TalesofMitt.com.
Gingrich's spokesman R.C. Hammond said: "Trying to keep the site updated as rapidly as Gov. Romney changes his positions and obscures about his past will be a daunting undertaking. But we pledge to keep up with the deluge of material the governor is sure to provide."
For its part, the Romney campaign has lined up a procession of surrogates to blast Gingrich's record. Monday morning, the campaign sent out a news release titled "An Overdose of Grandiose" listing quotes from Gingrich's past in which the former Speaker compared himself with Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, among others.