All politics is local. It's an old maxim that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney still holds as he tries to regain his front-runner footing in Florida, following a stinging defeat to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in South Carolina.
Romney's team has launched an attack on Gingrich for reportedly pocketing $1.7 million in payments from Freddie Mac, one of the maligned housing giants blamed in part for the mortgage crisis that precipitated the recent recession. Romney is hoping Florida residents, among the hardest hit by the housing market crash, will channel their resentment towards Gingrich.
"The average home value is down somewhere between 35 and 40 percent statewide," said Will Weatherford, speaker designate of the Florida House of Representatives, during a conference call Monday. "And nothing has contributed to that more than the mortgage crisis and frankly the terrible management of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae."
Weatherford and former GOP presidential candidate and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty used the call to demand Gingrich be transparent about his relationship with Freddie Mac.
"And the notion that he was paid $1.7 million as a historian for Freddie Mac is just BS," Pawlenty said. "It's just nonsense. He needs to reveal and his firm needs to reveal that contract and go through in detail what positions and advice he gave Freddie Mac, how they responded to that and also what advocacy, if any, he took with respect to these issues with the United States Congress."
Earlier in the year, Gingrich claimed he was paid by the mortgage giant as a "historian." He later said when made aware the quasi-government agency was making risky loans that he told them "this is insane." He claims to have told officials at Freddie Mac – presciently – that it was an unsustainable bubble in the market, though his account has been disputed by sources at the housing giant, according to the Associated Press.
As for how the issue will play in Florida, Weatherford said it's one that hits home for many residents of the Sunshine state.
"Floridians are extremely familiar with what the mortgage crisis has brought to them personally," he said. "It has brought personal pain and agony to Floridians across the state of Florida and so I don't think you'll see Speaker Gingrich be able to sweep this issue under the rug."
The Romney surrogates also sought to paint Gingrich as hypocritical for demanding that Romney release his tax returns while withholding details of his relationship with Freddie Mac and other clients.
Pawlenty added that Gingrich's attempt to run as a Washington outsider "defies the facts."
"One of the issues in this campaign is who represents Washington, D.C. and all of the dysfunction and incredible disappointment and frustration that the United States of America and its people have toward Washington, D.C. and who doesn't," he said. "Newt Gingrich has spent almost his entire adult life either as a member of the Congress or as somebody who has been an influence peddler post-speakership in the ways that I've described."
Romney himself weighed in on the issue during press availability on Monday in Tampa, saying "let's also see the relationship with Freddie Mac and the work product of Freddie Mac. Let's have full disclosure of what's going on. By the way, saying that Newt Gingrich is a lobbyist is just a matter of fact."
"He indicates that he doesn't fall within the narrow definition of lobbyists that he might have in mind," Romney said. "But if you're working for a company, getting paid for a company through one of your many entities and then you're speaking with Congressmen in a way that would help that company, that's lobbying. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."
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