Gingrich and Romney debate 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
HIALEAH, Fla. - Republican Newt Gingrich struggled to halt surging rival Mitt Romney's momentum on Sunday, accusing him of launching false attacks as polls showed Romney widening his lead two days before Florida's presidential primary.
Romney, who has battered Gingrich in a flood of television ads and two debates in Florida last week, opened a double-digit lead over the former US House of Representatives speaker in four polls released on Sunday.
Gingrich said the race was closer in Florida than the polls indicated and vowed to fight on beyond Tuesday's vote. Conservatives eventually would rally behind his candidacy and block Romney's nomination, he said.
"I believe the Republican Party will not nominate a pro-abortion, pro-gun control, pro-tax increase moderate from Massachusetts," Gingrich said after attending a Baptist church in Lutz, Florida.
"They will not nominate somebody who raises millions from Wall Street to run ads that are false," he said. "So this is going to be a straight out contest for the next four or five months."
Earlier, Gingrich accused Romney of distorting his record.
"He has a basic policy of carpet-bombing his opponent," he said on "Fox News Sunday." "I give Governor Romney's campaign due respect for the sheer volume of negativity that they use and the sheer amount of money they raise on Wall Street."
Romney told supporters in Naples, Florida, that Gingrich was making excuses and should take a look in the mirror.
"My own view is that the reason Speaker Gingrich has been having a hard time in Florida is the people of Florida have watched the debates and listened to the speaker, have listened to the other candidates, and have said, 'You know what? Mitt Romney's the guy we're gonna support,'" he said.
Romney this week attacked Gingrich for his ties to the mortgage agency Freddie Mac and the collapse of the housing market - an open wound in Florida, where residential property values have plunged about 45 percent from early 2006.
Gingrich picked up the endorsement on Saturday night of former rival Herman Cain, who dropped out of the Republican race in December after allegations of sexual harassment and an extramarital affair.
But polls have shown the race moving toward Romney in Florida for days, reversing the momentum that Gingrich built after scoring an upset of Romney in South Carolina on Jan. 21.
A Reuters/ Ipsos poll on Sunday showed Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, holding a 12 percentage point advantage over Gingrich in Florida. Three other polls on Sunday put Romney's lead in Florida at between 11 and 15 points.
"It's clear that Romney has run a much more focused and effective campaign in Florida than Newt," Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak said. "Newt is playing defense every single day in every way."