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Smaller Crowd for Newt Before Primary

Plus, Newt mum on past support for individual mandate.

5:40 PM, Jan 30, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Tampa, Fla.
Fewer than 24 hours before polls open for the Republican primary, Newt Gingrich was joined by Herman Cain and Michael Reagan for a relatively small campaign rally. A fraction of the Tampa Jet Center’s large hangar was cordoned off for the crowd of about 400, a number far short of the few thousand Gingrich has been receiving at similar events across Florida in the last week. The Tampa event was the third of five stops in each corner of the state on a busy Monday for the Gingrich campaign.

Newt in Tampa

Gingrich took the stage over an hour late, following Reagan and Cain’s warm-up acts. “Tomorrow is a really, really big day,” he told his cheering audience.

The former House speaker took plenty of shots at Mitt Romney for his effort to “destroy Gingrich” using “falsehoods.”

“Both the Wall Street Journal and the National Review have said what Romney’s been saying about me leaving the Congress is false,” Gingrich said. “You just saw one of our dear friends, Michael Reagan, who is here campaigning because he understands that was Romney said about Reagan and me was false.”

Gingrich continued, knocking Romney for voting for Democrat Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Masscahusetts presidential primary over the option of voting in the contested Republican primary that year. “He gave money to three Democratic candidates for Congress, and he is questioning my credentials?” Gingrich said. “It just tells you how out of touch with honesty that Mitt Romney is capable of being.”

Gingrich also cited a poll released “just an hour ago” that found he was tied with Romney in Florida at 35 percent. The only recent poll showing that sort of tie was released Friday and, as Dave Weigel points out, was conducted between last Monday and Wednesday, only a few days after Gingrich’s victory in the South Carolina primary.

More realistically, Romney has a considerable advantage—more than 12 points ahead of Gingrich according to the RealClearPolitics average—going into Tuesday’s primary. Many recent polls of Florida Republicans show Romney with an even larger lead, though a few indicate the race could be a bit closer.

The usually gregarious Gingrich did not speak with the press before or after the rally, despite a previous promise from the campaign to hold a press availability session. Gingrich did, however, grant short exclusive interviews to some television networks before his appearance. After shaking hands with supporters following his speech, Gingrich was unresponsive when I asked him multiple times about his expressed support for the concept of an individual mandate as recently as May 2009, which a recently unearthed audio clip reveals. The campaign has not answered a request to comment.

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