Mitt Romney is wasting little time in trying to take Newt Gingrich down a few notches after his come from behind victory in the South Carolina GOP primary.
Romney, who was a one-term governor of Massachusetts, has embraced a "take-no-prisoners" approach in dealing with the former speaker of the House. Romney uses descriptive phrases such as "erratic" and "pinball machine" frequently when he reminds voters of Gingrich's volatile tenure as speaker and his ties to mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
The Northeastern native now finds himself more on the offensive than he previously planned, having put together a cohesive team in Florida months before voters started paying attention. His preferred plan was to play more defense – to ignore his GOP opponents and focus on President Obama and the economy, answering only the questions he needed to in order to get back to his original game plan. But that was before Gingrich won South Carolina.
Times are different now and Romney is backed into a corner and needs some breathing room in order to gain ground once more.
What Romney has that his three other rivals don't are a big bank account and an organized campaign structure on the ground. Trying to capitalize on Florida's housing crisis, Romney has put up a 30-second television ad intended to slam Gingrich for collecting $1.6 million from Freddie Mac while Florida families were left out in the cold. He also takes him to task on the education front.
"He voted in favor of establishing the Department of Education and yet he gets in a debate and says we should get rid of the Department of Education and send all the education issues back to the states," Romney says of Gingrich. "He's opposed vehemently to the Massachusetts health care system and yet just a couple of years ago wrote about what a superb system it was."
Romney has also figured out that he needs to remind voters of Gingrich's tenure as House speaker and how some members of his caucus sought to replace him. Prior to the South Carolina primary, Romney enlisted the support of former Congressmen Susan Molinari of New York and Jim Talent of Missouri, both of whom served under Gingrich in the late 1990s.
"Incredibly smart and pragmatic, he is at his best when he is building a team," Molinari wrote in her book, Representative Mom: Balancing Budgets, Bill and Baby in the U.S. Congress. "He is at his worst and most self-destructive when he swells with his own sense of invulnerability and moves to the front and center."
But the rift between Molinari and Gingrich goes even deeper. Her husband, former Rep. Bill Paxton, was one of the ringleaders who tried to overthrow Gingrich in a blundered coup. He resigned soon afterward.
With two GOP debates this week, most analysts believe Romney will do something he has never had to engage in and that is hand-to-hand combat with Gingrich in order to fight his way back to the top.
The results from the latest Public Policy Polling survey show Gingrich holds a 9-point lead over Romney, 37 to 28 percent. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is third with 16 percent, followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 14 percent.