"While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in," the narrator said. "Gingrich resigned from Congress in disgrace. And then cashed in as a D.C. insider."
Gingrich had previously shrugged off questions about his consulting work for Freddie Mac. But Romney wouldn't let Gingrich off the hook in Florida. Two days after the ad began running, Gingrich suffered perhaps his greatest setback on an unlikely stage.
The candidates met Thursday night in Jacksonville for the final debate before the primary.
Romney supporters packed into the auditorium to help win the applause battle. And Romney researchers found a gem among Gingrich's personal investments hours before the debate.
Gingrich walked into a trap when he criticized Romney for investing in funds that include stock from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
"Mr. Speaker, I know that sounds like an enormous revelation, but have you checked your own investments?" Romney asked a stone-faced Gingrich. "You also have investments through mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."
It was like a punch to the stomach for Gingrich, who needed a strong showing to reclaim the momentum. He was speechless and wouldn't recover that night or in the days that followed.
Florida polls had already started swinging wildly in Romney's favor. And he didn't take his foot off Gingrich's neck.
At a campaign stop the next day, Romney likened Gingrich to Goldilocks, the fairy tale character who complained of the temperature of her porridge. He repeated the jab the next day. And Romney dispatched high-profile surrogates to Gingrich events, ensuring that no attacks would go unanswered in real time.
The strategy produced uncomfortable moments for Gingrich and sometimes clouded his message. Surrounded by reporters and cameras, a Gingrich spokesman forced an argument with a Romney representative, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
It was an unusual approach for a campaign that appeared to be in a tailspin.
Gingrich's crowds started to shrink. And the campaign further alienated voters by struggling with the logistics of campaigning in a large state — often arriving at events 90 minutes late in the campaign's final days.
Romney didn't let up.
The campaign aired a second attack ad four days before the primary featuring an NBC News broadcast from 1997 about Gingrich's ethical problems as the House speaker. The Romney campaign refused to take the ad down after objections from NBC, a dispute that only heightened the ad's exposure.
But Gingrich was defiant until the end.
On Tuesday, he predicted the race would continue for another six months regardless of the Florida results. "Unless Romney drops out earlier," he quipped.
Romney has signaled that he won't back off his aggressive strategy so long as Gingrich is within striking distance, saying, "I'm not going to stand back and allow another candidate to define me."
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