The Gingrich Comeback That Fizzled (The Note)

Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )

TAMPA, Fla. - By all accounts, Florida will not make Newt Gingrich the comeback kid.

One week ago everyone was wondering whether Gingrich was heading toward a momentum-driven win in the Florida primary, an outcome that would have upended the presidential race.

Now, on the eve of tomorrow's election, the question no longer seems to be whether Gingrich will win, but by how large a margin he will lose.

A new Quinnipiac University poll of likely Republican voters in the state gives Mitt Romney a 14-point edge over Gingrich, 43 percent to 29 percent. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, both of whom have abandoned the state to campaign elsewhere, are tied at 11 percent.

"Gov Mitt Romney is headed toward a double-digit victory that touches all the GOP bases," Quinnipiac pollster Peter A. Brown said. "Romney carries every part of the GOP coalition, including parts central to Gingrich - self-described conservatives, white evangelical Christians and Tea Party supporter."

And there's the rub for Gingrich. After spending the weekend speaking at churches across Florida, Romney is still beating him among white evangelical Christians, 38 percent to 33 percent.

After touting his anti-establishment credentials in every stump speech, Gingrich is trailing Romney by 7 percentage points among self-described Tea Party supporters, 40 percent to 33 percent.

And after declaring himself the "legitimate heir of the Reagan movement" compared to his opponent, who he called, a "liberal from Massachusetts," Romney is still prevailing over Gingrich by a 40 to 31 percent margin among conservatives, according to the poll.

Privately, Romney aides say the former Massachusetts governor's margin of victory on Tuesday may not be as large as the polls indicate, but at least as far as Florida is concerned there is a sense of "mission accomplished," about their efforts here.

There's also a sense that the Gingrich campaign gets it.

The campaign's national political director circulated a fact-sheet this morning looking ahead from the Florida contest to the states yet to come.

According to the memo: "Most of the contests scheduled for the next few months will award delegates on a proportional basis, resetting this campaign and giving Newt Gingrich a distinct advantage," Gingrich's political director Martin Baker wrote.

The campaign is correct that the new rules make it impossible for a candidate to wrap this thing up before Super Tuesday - or beyond. But, how do Gingrich and Rick Santorum stay relevant during February "dead zone"? (There are no debates until Feb. 22, and the next big state primaries in Arizona and Michigan aren't until Feb. 28.)

Gingrich may on the verge of a stinging defeat in Florida tomorrow, but he's evidently decided to go down swinging. In an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" today he once again labeled Romney a "liberal" - about as derogatory a term as one Republican can use against another.

"In the long run the Republican Party is not going to nominate the founder of Romneycare, a liberal Republican who is pro-abortion, pro-gun control and pro-tax increases," Gingrich said of Romney. "Ain't gonna happen."

MORE FROM GEORGE'S INTERVIEW WITH GINGRICH: He has called Romney a "liar" who "mislead the entire country" in last week's debate. But that won't keep Gingrich from endorsing Romney should he become the Republican nominee for president. "I think reelecting Obama is a disaster and I'll certainly endorse the Republican nominee. But I think that Mitt Romney will have a very, very hard time differentiating himself [from Obama]," Gingrich told Stephanopoulos. In the 24 hours before Floridians hit the polls Gingrich is making his case against nominating a man who he thinks is too moderate for the electorate. "We nominated a moderate in 1996, he got beaten badly. We nominated a moderate in 2008, he got beaten badly. I know that the establishment would love to nominate Romney and they want to make him electable so they can beat [Obama] in the Fall," he said. "But I think the record of '96 and 2008 is you better have a conservative who can draw a really wide gap."

ROMNEY CAMP'S RESPONSE: "Speaker Gingrich has a history of attacking other Republicans and undermining conservatives," Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement. "Mr. Gingrich damaged the conservative movement when called Congressman Paul Ryan's responsible budget 'right wing social engineering' and joined with Nancy Pelosi to promote liberal climate change legislation. This dishonest attack is another example of Newt Gingrich trying to rewrite history to save his sinking campaign."

NOTED: The Romney campaign is pushing their "Grandiose Newt" narrative in a press release this morning. "Over The Weekend, Speaker Gingrich Linked Himself To Both Of President Reagan's General Election Victories And Took Credit For Rescuing George H.W. Bush From Defeat In 1988," Team Romney notes. The missive lists roughly a dozen lofty historical figures to whom Gingrich has compared himself.

THE BIG PICTURE. ABC News' Rick Klein predicts that the bad blood between Gingrich and Romney could have long-term consequences. His analysis: "Gingrich is accusing Romney not just of liberal and moderate viewpoints, but of a craven dishonesty in his attacks - the kind of dishonesty that will make it seem strained at best when and if Gingrich throws his support behind Romney for the general election. He's using the attacks to fuel an argument that Romney simply can't beat President Obama in November. Sarah Palin, speaking to the tea party activists and other base conservatives, is emerging as Gingrich's chief ally in arguing for the campaign to continue. Her voice was reinforced by that of former candidate Herman Cain, whose endorsement of Gingrich Saturday puts an exclamation point on the split between the party's establishment and anti-establishment wings."

THIS WEEK ON "THIS WEEK": GINGRICH ACCUSES ROMNEY OF 'CARPET-BOMBING.' In an interview with ABC's Jake Tapper on "This Week" yesterday, Gingrich said Romney has run a "campaign of vilification" that is based on "factually false" claims and "carpet-bombing with negative ads." When Jake asked the former speaker if Romney had the character to be president, Gingrich said "it is a very serious problem." "You cannot be president of the United States if you cannot be honest and candid with the American people," Gingrich told Tapper, adding that some of the attacks against him "have been breathtakingly dishonest." Romney dominated Thursday's debate and devoted a hefty chunk of the two-hour event to attacking Gingrich's immigration stance, the work he did for mortgage giant Freddie Mac, and the ethics investigation of Gingrich while he was in the House. On Sunday, Gingrich said such attacks were "blatantly dishonest" and based on "totally phony history, which [Romney] maniacally continues to repeat." "I'm standing next to a guy who is the most blatantly dishonest answers I can remember in any presidential race in - in my lifetime," Gingrich said. "I don't know how you debate a person with civility if they're prepared to say things that are just plain factually false."

NOTED: Also on the program, House Speaker John Boehner told our Jake Tapper that the House "has done its job" to work with the Senate to pass key jobs legislation, including a year-long extension of the payroll tax cut. "We have passed 30 bills in the House that would help get our economy moving again. Twenty-seven of them are sitting over in the United States Senate," Boehner said. "What the president could do … would be to work with us to lean on the Senate to take up these bills."

THE ROUNDTABLE. In case you missed it, the "This Week" roundtable: George Will, Donna Brazile, Austan Goolsbee and Laura Ingraham discussed the Florida primary on Sunday. "Time is not Newt Gingrich's friend," Will said. "We're at the horrid stage with Newt Gingrich." WATCH:



ROMNEY ON GINGRICH: HE'S 'FLAILING.' Mitt Romney said last night in an interview with ABC News' Emily Friedman that he thinks Newt Gingrich is "flailing about" as he begins to recognize he's "in trouble" in Florida. "I feel good about Florida and feel good about the sendoff," Romney said during an interview aboard his campaign bus. "And as I watch Speaker Gingrich flailing about and casting about and attacking, I have to think that he's seeing a diminution of support and recognizing he's in trouble here." "And it's not because of something we've done, or Rick Santorum's done, I think it's because people look at Speaker Gingrich and recognize this is a guy who was paid over a million dollars to stand up for Freddie Mac," Romney said. "People here are angry about Freddie Mac and angry about what Freddie Mac did to the value of their homes."

SANTORUM SPEAKS ABOUT HIS DAUGHTER'S HEALTH. Rick Santorum made his first public comments on the health of his youngest daughter, Isabella, last night on a tele-town hall with voters, saying she has had a "miraculous turnaround," ABC's Shushannah Walshe reports. "She's had a miraculous turnaround," Santorum said on the call with Florida voters. "We have a long way to go, but she turned the corner and we are very, very grateful." He confirmed that his daughter, who the family calls Bella, was diagnosed with pneumonia in both lungs and said the family had a "very difficult 36 hours." The former Pennsylvania senator said his daughter remains in intensive care and will be in the hospital for several more days. Bella suffers from Trisomy 18, a rare and serious genetic disorder that kills about 90 percent of children before or during birth.

PAGING JEB BUSH. "A steady stream of endorsements has been flowing to Mitt Romney, with his campaign promoting Republicans who are giving their blessing to his presidential candidacy. Yet on the eve of the Florida primary, he has been unable to land the biggest catch of all: Jeb Bush," The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny reports. "An unspoken question hovering over the Republican presidential race here is why Mr. Bush, the state's popular former governor and heir to the nation's aging political dynasty, has not added his voice to the party establishment's support for Mr. Romney in his increasingly bitter duel with Newt Gingrich. It has not been for a lack of effort by Mr. Romney, who has made phone calls, traded e-mails and met privately to try to win over Mr. Bush. The campaign was poised to make him a national co-chairman, a role Mr. Bush would have shared with Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, but several Republicans familiar with the offer say it was declined. As the center of Republican politics has once again returned to Florida, with Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich making final appeals to voters across the state on Sunday, Mr. Bush has been noticeably - and, several friends say, purposefully - absent from the conversation."

RON PAUL LOOKS TOWARD NEVADA. Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul heads west next week to campaign in the early voting states of Colorado and Nevada, ABC's Jason Volack writes. Although Nevada has been virtually ignored by his rivals, Paul has opened two offices there and unveiled his centerpiece budget plan in Las Vegas last October. Paul did well in Nevada four years ago, placing second to Mitt Romney, who successfully leveraged his Mormon faith to draw in a sizable number of Mormon voters. The campaign is seeking to do better with Mormon voters by explaining Paul's fidelity to the constitution. "The nation is ready for a Mormon president," said James Barcia, Ron Paul's 2012 deputy press secretary. "But the question is, do you want someone who is constitutionally observant?" Senior campaign aides also admit they are trying to court Hispanics, who represent a quarter of the state's population, through direct mail in both English and Spanish highlighting the congressman's medical background, faith, and family.

OBAMA CAMP: GOP RHETORIC 'SEALED POLITICAL FATE' WITH HISPANICS. ABC's Devin Dwyer reports: As the Florida primary hurtles to a close tomorrow, President Obama's re-election campaign is claiming an early victory: the loyalty of a strong majority of Hispanic voters, many of whom, they say, are disgusted by the GOP candidates' rhetoric on immigration. "Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich may very well have already sealed the political fate of their party with the Hispanic electorate - the fastest growing voting bloc in the country," Obama for America Hispanic pollster Sergio Bendixen and spokeswoman Gabriela Domenzain wrote in a memo to reporters Monday. "Their extreme rhetoric on immigration during the televised debates has rejected our history as a nation of immigrants and alienated millions of Hispanic voters nationally," they said. The memo calls Romney's vocal opposition to the DREAM Act, which he's described as a "handout," a "demagogic appeal to Tea Party voters." 85 percent of Hispanic voters support the measure, according to a new Univision/Latino Decisions poll.

NOTABLE: What's it like to interview President Obama? ABC's Diane Sawyer and Jake Tapper take you behind the scenes in the last edition of the new web series, "Political Punch." Diane says the biggest challenge is "time." WATCH:

OBAMA HANGS OUT. From Google and YouTube: "On Monday, Jan 30th at 5:30pm ET, President Obama will answer questions submitted and ranked by the YouTube community and selected by Google during a live-streamed Google+ Hangout from the West Wing. Over 225,000 people submitted or voted on questions on YouTube for this first-of-its-kind event.  The virtual interview will feature a combination of top-voted YouTube questions, and questions posed by participants joining the President live in the Hangout." The event will be live-streamed here:


@waltershapiroPD : My latest TNR piece ( argues Newt is indeed Reagan. Not the president but the guy who bedeviled Ford to KC Convention.

@shiratoeplitz : . @dscc picks McKenna,  @NRSC picks DuHaime + Strimple for IE efforts. My  @rollcall exclusive:

@MaeveReston : Newt's Super PAC turns the tables on Mitt today: @rickwtyler is here bracketing Romney's event in JAX.

@SarahH_CBSNJ : Campaigning w/ Michael Reagan, Newt reminds crowd that his father (Ronnie) lost the first 5 primaries in '80.  #Campaign2012

@jmartpolitico : For 1st time in decades, Rs cud have a convo w 3 candidates arriving w significant delegates. Not the mess they used to



- Mitt Romney will hold rallies in Jacksonville, Dunedin and The Villages, Florida.

- Newt Gingrich will travel across Florida with stops in Jacksonville, Pensacola, Tampa, Fort Meyers and Orlando. Michael Reagan will join him throughout the day and Herman Cain is expected to make an appearance at the campaign's Tampa rally.

- Rick Santorum will return to the campaign trail and deliver a major address focusing on jobs and the economy in Cottleville, Missouri. Later in the evening, he will hold a town hall meeting in Luverne, Minnesota.

- Ron Paul is off in Texas.

-ABC's Joanna Suarez

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