(Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich admitted he had a poor debate performance Thursday evening, but blamed his shortcomings on rival Mitt Romney's negative attacks and denounced Romney's campaign as the most dishonest in his lifetime.
"The reason I was relatively flat in Thursday's debate is I don't know how you debate a person, being civil, when he stands there and he just blatantly doesn't tell the truth," former Speaker of the House Gingrich said on "Fox News Sunday."
Gingrich has become a top-tier candidate in the race largely based upon strong debate performances. He has also argued that he would be the most electable candidate in November because he is best able to debate President Barack Obama, who will, according to Gingrich, run a "billion dollar" negative campaign against whoever the Republican nominee is.
But Thursday's CNN debate was widely seen as Gingrich's poorest debate performance so far because, in part, he provided weak answers when asked to explain his negative attacks on Romney, the former Governor of Massachusetts. Romney said that a radio ad from the Gingrich campaign that accused Romney of being "anti-immigrant" was "despicable." Moderator Wolf Blitzer challenged Gingrich to explain his accusations against Romney while campaigning in Florida, but Gingrich tried to evade the question.
Gingrich's two most recent ads on his campaign website, Newt.org, accuse Romney of making five dishonest statements during the Thursday debate.
"What kind of man would mislead, distort, and deceive just to win an election? This man would. Mitt Romney," one ad states.
In one of those statements, Romney said that he never voted for a Democrat when a Republican was on the ballot when explaining why he voted for a Democrat, Paul Tsongas, in the 1992 presidential election.
Politifact rated Romney's statement "half-true." When Massachusetts held its primary in March 1992, Romney could have voted in the Republican race between George H. W. Bush and Pat Buchanan, but Bush had such a strong lead by then that the race was not competitive. On the Democratic side, however, the race was still up for grabs. Technically speaking, there was no Republican on the ballot as Romney claimed, but that was because Romney chose to vote in the Democratic primary, not the Republican primary.
Gingrich was also interviewed Sunday on ABC's "This Week" and declared that Romney gave "the most blatantly dishonest answers I can remember in any presidential race in my lifetime."
"I don't know quite how you deal with an opponent," Gingrich said, that says dishonest things about you, "because you want to deal with them in civility."
Despite Gingrich's poor debate performance, former presidential candidate Herman Cain threw his support behind him on Saturday.
"I hereby officially and enthusiastically endorse Newt Gingrich for president of the United States," Cain said at a campaign event in Palm Beach, Fla.
Cain had previously endorsed "the American people" before changing his endorsement Saturday.
Cain withdrew from the race in early December after several accusations of sexual impropriety. Gingrich has also had to answer questions about adultery during his first two marriages. Cain, though, denied the allegations while Gingrich has admitted to making mistakes and needing forgiveness.
Two recent polls show Romney with a strong lead over Gingrich ahead of Florida's Tuesday primary. NBC/Marist shows Romney with a 15 percentage point lead, 42 percent to 27 percent. Rasmussen has Romney ahead by 16 percentage points, 44 percent to 28 percent.
The two other candidates in the race, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and Texas Congressman Ron Paul are both way behind in the Florida's winner-take-all primary.