Newt Gingrich Makes A Play For Rick Santorum’s Voters In Florida

Jan 28, 2012 6:06pm

ABC News’ Michael Falcone and Shushannah Walshe report:

WINTER PARK, Fla. — With polls showing him falling behind rival Mitt Romney in Florida, Newt Gingrich acknowledged on Saturday that he is hoping to siphon votes from another candidate, Rick Santorum.

“I have great respect for my good friend Rick Santorum. He’s a terrific person, we’ve known each other for the past 20 years, but the fact is, he’s not going to win in Florida,” Gingrich told a crowd at the Aloma Baptist Church in Winter Park, Fla. on Saturday evening.

“Please just try to convince your friends the only effective practical conservative vote on Tuesday is for Newt Gingrich,” he said, “that’s just a fact.”

It was not the first time that Gingrich expressed his desire for Santorum to quit the race, but his plea took on new urgency just three days before Florida voters go the polls. At a campaign event in Port St. Lucie, Fla. earlier on Saturday, Gingrich pledged, “we’re going to the convention,” but the consequences of a Romney win in the state appear to be looming larger over the Republican nominating contest.

Gingrich’s choice of venue was also no accident. He spoke on Saturday to an audience of social conservatives who represent the sweet spot of Santorum’s support.

Though he called the former Pennsylvania senator a “very attractive, desirable person with a great personal family story,” he asked members of the audience not to waste a vote on him.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Friday showed Romney leading in Florida with 38 percent compared to 29 percent for Gingrich, 12 percent for Santorum and 14 percent for Ron Paul, who is not actively competing in the Sunshine State.

Santorum left Florida to return home to Pennsylvania on Friday, but will be back in the state for more campaign events on Sunday. Campaign aides have said he has no intention of dropping out before Tuesday’s primary, and speaking to reporters on Friday night Santorum said he was in the race for the “long haul.”

“We haven’t even had a discussion about a discussion,” Santorum said, referring to a conversation with advisers about dropping out of the race.

Santorum said he intended to spend Saturday — his first day off the campaign trail since Christmas — retrieving his taxes from his home computer and attending another fundraiser in Virginia where he now lives with his family.

In South Carolina earlier this month, Santorum rejected Gingrich’s suggestion that he exit the race and throw his support behind the former House speaker, saying that his opponent was “arrogant” and had an “enormous amount of hubris,” to make such a request.

But at the Baptist church in Florida on Saturday, at least one member of the audience appeared to agree with Gingrich’s plan, shouting “next time around,” — a reference to Santorum future political prospects. Gingrich called it “a good battle cry.”

“He’s young enough he can show back up,” he said.

ABC News’ Arlette Saenz and Elicia Dover contributed reporting.

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