THE VILLAGES, Fla. -- Newt Gingrich punched chief rival Mitt Romney on Sunday, stung by a Romney team Florida blitz energized -- ironically and of necessity -- by Gingrich's South Carolina primary win.
Gingrich, anxious to buy time if the polls are right and Romney wins the Florida primary on Tuesday, argued that it will take at least four to five months to produce a nominee and maybe more -- right through to the August convention in Tampa.
"I believe the Republican party will not nominate a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase moderate from Massachusetts," Gingrich said at a press conference outside the gigantic Idlewild Baptist Church near Tampa, where he attended Sunday services.
Florida's GOP primary, fratricidal in its nasty closing days, is being played out in a state hit by the collapse of the housing market and full of seniors anxious about their Medicare benefits.
That's why an ad bashing Romney by a pro-Gingrich SuperPAC asserts Romney made money from a company accused of Medicare fraud (echoing a Democratic slam), and pro-Romney forces have tried to shine a spotlight on Gingrich's claim he made more than $1 million for his company by working as a "historian" for Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage company.
In his stump speech, Gingrich displays as much contempt towards GOP moderates as he does for President Barack Obama. The 2012 election is about "the future of America and the future of the Republican party," he said at the church.
The former House speaker, who never moved back to Georgia after he quit the House -- he lives in suburban Virginia -- who runs a Washington consulting firm and a think tank, casts himself as an outsider fighting the Washington (read that Romney) establishment.
So it is understandable that what seems to get under Gingrich's skin the most is the stepped-up accusation in Florida by the Romneyites that he exaggerates his closeness to former President Ronald Reagan.
In this retirement village in central Florida, about 50 miles north of Orlando -- where as many golf carts as cars fill parking lots -- thousands showed up under a warm, gorgeous sunny sky for a Gingrich rally.
Gingrich told the crowd he is "delighted" that one of Reagan's sons, Michael, the talk show host, will campaign with him on Monday -- as will Herman Cain, who endorsed him Saturday night in Palm Beach at a GOP dinner.
"I am in fact the legitimate heir to the Reagan movement, not some liberal from Massachusetts," Gingrich told the crowd.
He also thanked Sarah Palin for weighing in, though she did not endorse. On Fox News she urged "if for no other reason, rage against the machine, vote for Newt. Annoy a liberal, vote Newt. Keep this vetting process going, keep the debate going."
After getting thumped in South Carolina, Romney and his team stepped up their game, piling more on to a central attack, that Gingrich was an "unreliable Speaker." At the debate Thursday, Romney was finally crisp -- and Gingrich could not repeat his South Carolina grand slams.