POMPANO BEACH– Many of his lines weren't new, but the crowd loved it as Mitt Romney went after Barack Obama on Sunday as a failure and continued the offensive against Newt Gingrich that's helped him surge as Florida's presidential primary approaches.
Romney termed the Obama administration a Groundhog Day presidency: the president says the same thing over and over and Americans wake up every day with the same problems. He promised to "run him out of the White House."
Gingrich, who is Romney's chief rival in Tuesday's primary, wasn't the focus of Sunday's rally at the Emma Lou Olson Civic Center in Pompano Beach – but he wasn't forgotten.
Romney reminded the crowd, which topped 700, that the former House speaker was paid $1.6 million by mortgage giant Freddie Mac, which many Republicans blame for the housing crash that hit especially hard in Florida.
And he crowed about what were his rival's widely panned performances in the two Florida debates last week.
Romney touted his record in business, as Massachusetts governor and running the Salt Lake City Olympics, and said Gingrich was a failure as speaker of the House, forced to leave that post "in disgrace" with an approval rating of 18 percent.
"If you've ever tried to hire someone for a job you look at not just what they say, but what their record is. And his record is one of failed leadership," Romney said.
Though Gingrich enjoyed a wave of publicity from his victory in the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21 and a temporary surge in the polls, Romney reversed the trend in recent days. A NBC News/Marist Poll of likely Republican primary voters released Sunday showed Romney with 42 percent and Gingrich with 27 percent.
Romney said Gingrich's fortunes are failing because people are getting to know him and don't like what they see.
Romney, who sounded hoarse, spoke for about 15 minutes. Broward has the second largest number of registered Republicans in Florida, but Sunday's rally's was Romney's first public appearance of the campaign in the county. He's previously held closed-door fundraisers and campaigned in the county during the 2008 campaign.
Average voters and party leaders liked what they saw and heard.
Gene Brotsky of Boynton Beach , retired from the shipping container business, said he was supporting Gingrich for a time, but "I just don't trust him anymore" and plans to vote for Romney. He was wearing an "I Was Anti-Obama Before It Was Cool" t-shirt.
Wendy Markwell, a real estate agent from Lighthouse Point said she's always liked Romney better than the other Republican candidates "because he's a moderate" – an assessment Romney wouldn't appreciate since he's running as a conservative.
Jay Goldfarb, one of the Romney campaign's Palm Beach County co-chairmen, said his candidate has gotten much stronger in recent days. "South Carolina gave him that kick in the pants. He got that awakening. He got aggressive," Goldfarb said.
Ed Kennedy, Broward's state committeeman and a Romney co-chairman in Broward, offered a similar assessment. "The campaign has been excellent for him. Everyone can see the metamorphosis."
Sim Gerson, a Boca Raton lawyer, said he likes Romney, but can't vote for him. That's because he's a registered Democrat. Holding a "Florida Democrats for Mitt" sign, Gerson said he voted for Obama in 2008 but has grown disillusioned.
Gingrich, speaking to an outdoor rally of more than 1,000 people at The Villages in central Florida, painted a terrifying picture of America's possible future Sunday, forewarning that society would become dependent on food stamps, China would surpass the United States as a preferred world trade partner and a nuclear Iran would mean the potential destruction of American cities.
He described Obama as being in "a fantasy world where there are no enemies" and said Romney is part of the same establishment elite that will do nothing to protect America.
He sought to portray Romney as politically similar to Obama and himself as far outside the Washington establishment.
Rick Santorum, who the Marist poll showed at 16 percent, and Ron Paul, with 11 percent, are competing for third place. Neither campaigned in Florida on Sunday.
Staff writer Scott Powers contributed to this report.
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