(Updates with Romney campaign response in seventh paragraph. For more campaign news, see ELECT.)
Jan. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Newt Gingrich opened a new line of attack against Mitt Romney, focusing on his wealth and ties to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., a firm he says added to the housing crisis.
Gingrich’s remarks, ahead of the Jan. 31 Florida primary, were intended to blunt criticism of his work for Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage-lending company that Republicans link to the financial meltdown.
“We aren’t that stupid and you aren’t that clever,” Gingrich said, referring to Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and business executive, during a stop today in Mount Dora, Florida.
Gingrich portrayed himself as the victim of attack ads run by Romney and his allies, calling them a “desperate last stand of the old order.”
The former U.S. House speaker suggested that the ads are being paid for by companies that have foreclosed on the homes of Floridians.
“We’re not going to beat Barack Obama with someone who owns Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island accounts,” Gingrich said. “I am running for president to represent you, not to represent the Washington establishment, not to represent Goldman Sachs.”
Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman, said it’s “puzzling to see Speaker Gingrich and his supporters continue their attacks on free enterprise. Unlike President Obama and Speaker Gingrich, Mitt Romney spent his career in business and knows what it will take to turn around our nation’s bad economy.”
Gingrich also sought to draw attention to Romney’s longstanding ties to Wall Street as the co-founder of Boston- based Bain Capital LLC, a private-equity firm.
“People matter more than Wall Street,” he said.
Meeting later with reporters, Gingrich again brought up New York-based Goldman Sachs, whose employees and their families have provided more contributions to Romney than any other single employer. The company’s employees gave $367,200 to Romney through Sept. 30, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign finance. That’s more than the $235,275 he received from the company’s employees during his failed 2008 White House bid.
‘Foreclosing on Floridians’
Gingrich said Romney had personal holdings in “a part of Goldman Sachs that was explicitly foreclosing on Floridians.”
Romney’s assets are managed in a blind trust with the trustee making investment decisions.
Michael DuVally, a Goldman Sachs spokesman, didn’t immediately return a phone call.
In his speech, Gingrich mentioned Romney’s support in 1992 of the presidential campaign of Democrat Paul Tsongas, a onetime U.S. senator from Massachusetts, as well as Romney’s campaign for Senate against incumbent Democrat Edward Kennedy in 1994.
“This is a man who questioned my credentials as a Reaganite,” Gingrich said. “Do you know how hard it is to run to the left of Teddy Kennedy? He won’t tell you that now.”
Romney, who has assailed Gingrich more vigorously following the former speaker’s Jan. 21 South Carolina primary win, pivoted back to his standard message today and focused on Obama.
Criticism of Obama
Speaking at Paramount Printing in Jacksonville, Florida, a paper factory in the process of closing a plant there, Romney criticized the president for his handling of the economy.
“This has been a groundhog-day presidency,” Romney said. “He keeps saying the same things and we keep waking up to the same things going on.”
Romney’s campaign arranged an earlier conference call today with reporters to criticize Gingrich’s leadership.
“There’s an erratic sense about his thinking,” said U.S. Representative Mary Bono Mack, a California Republican.
“Although one could listen to his thinking and sometimes be inspired by it, the ideas would change the next day,” she said. “If you were somebody trying to serve with him, you were always sort of left standing with your hands empty in terms of moving forward with an actual plan.”
Mack also disputed Gingrich’s statements that Freddie Mac hired him as a historian, saying there are many lower-cost historians in Washington.
“It is very disingenuous to say that he’s not an influence peddler,” she said. “There’s no doubt that he is. You cannot leave the speakership and not have influence, not only with your former colleagues, but future colleagues and the country as well.”
Two polls released yesterday showed Romney and Gingrich in a virtual tie in Florida, heightening the pressure on both as they prepare for a televised debate tonight in Jacksonville. The surveys by Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University and CNN/Time/ORC each showed Romney with 36 percent support and Gingrich with 34 percent.
The race’s two other remaining candidates -- former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas -- trailed far behind in the polls.
Santorum said today that Romney and Gingrich have refused to debate on policies because both agree on “the big issues of the day” such as cap-and-trade, health care mandates and the Wall Street bailout.
“We want to have the real contrasts with President Obama,” Santorum told reporters in Tallahassee, the state capital. “Those two don’t disagree and I do. And that’s what makes us a much stronger and more viable candidate in the general election.”
As Romney’s Jan. 24 release of tax returns has provided fodder for his opponents, he has been emphasizing that he “didn’t inherit” his wealth. He also discussed yesterday why his tax rate is lower than those of many Americans.
“One of the reasons why we have a lower tax rate on capital gains is because capital gains are also being taxed at the corporate level,” Romney said during a stop in Miami. “The tax rate is really closer to 45 or 50 percent” for such income.
His disclosure earlier this week showed he made $21.6 million in 2010 and used preferential rates for investment income and charitable contributions to hold his overall tax rate to 13.9 percent.
In Congress, Romney’s returns reignited a debate on the tax treatment of so-called carried interest, which provides some investment executives with preferential tax rates.
Romney said in an interview yesterday with CNBC that he would seek to keep the provision in the tax code, if elected, because he doesn’t want to raise taxes on anyone.
“If it’s actually a capital investment, and it’s fairly priced at the time people invest in it, and then it rises in value as a capital gain, then you treat it as a capital gain,” he said. “If someone turns it into what looks like ordinary income or a bonus, why then, obviously, it’s not a capital gain.”
--With assistance from Lisa Lerer in Jacksonville, Michael C. Bender in Tallahassee and Michael J. Moore in New York. Editors: Justin Blum, Robin Meszoly
To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at email@example.com; John McCormick in Chicago at firstname.lastname@example.org
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