Ormond Beach, Florida (CNN) - The day after Newt Gingrich’s rout in South Carolina, Mitt Romney wasted no time in lighting into his newly emboldened competitor.
At a rally in Ormond Beach, Florida, Romney took direct aim at the former House speaker as he sought to wrest back his momentum in the GOP presidential race, offering the audience a history of what he called Gingrich’s “failed leadership” as speaker of the House.
“At the end of four years it was proven that he was a failed leader. And he had to resign in disgrace,” Romney said as the sun set over the outdoor rally at a building materials company. “I don’t know whether you knew that. He actually resigned after four years in disgrace.”
Romney tied the former speaker to President Obama, painting Gingrich as a Washington insider and saying a true outsider was the only hope for winning back the White House.
“He talks about great, bold movements and ideas,” Romney said. “Well, what’s he been doing for 15 years? He’s been working as a lobbyist, yeah. He’s been working as a lobbyist and selling influence around Washington.”
Hours after an abrupt turnaround on releasing his tax returns – Romney said Sunday morning that he would put out his 2010 tax information on Tuesday – the GOP candidate called on Gingrich to release records of his time spent working with troubled mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
“What was he doing at Freddie Mac?” Romney asked. “Because Freddie Mac figures in very prominently into the fact that people in Florida have seen home values go down – it’s time to turn that around!”
Gingrich has said most of the six-figure sum he received from Freddie Mac went to pay for overhead and staff at his firm.
The former Massachusetts governor also made reference to Gingrich’s troubled marital history and emphasized the importance of character in the Republican race for the White House.
“We’re not choosing a talk show host, all right? We’re choosing a leader. We’re choosing the person who should be the leader of the free world,” Romney said, in a veiled reference to Gingrich’s colorful – and frequently applauded – speaking style at a series of presidential primary debates.
Romney added: “I believe leaders have integrity. I believe they are people of sobriety, judgment, thoughtfulness, reliability, high ethical standards, all the elements of leadership.”
The Romney campaign hoped the shift to Florida would provide an opportunity for rebound after a difficult week in which Romney learned he had lost Iowa’s caucuses, struggled over repeated questions about his taxes and was dealt a stunning loss in South Carolina.
Romney has a healthy financial advantage in Florida and boasts a significant political organization.
“It’s good to be back in Florida,” he told the audience Sunday. “I need your help.”
Romney was aided in his efforts by the two women who introduced him - Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi and Romney’s wife, Ann – who vouched for the former governor’s character.
Bondi took a none-too-subtle swipe at Gingrich’s ego.
“Let me tell you, this man is not arrogant,” Bondi said of Romney, adding of his family: “They are good people, of the highest integrity, of the highest morals, and they are a good, strong family.”
Meanwhile, Ann Romney spoke about Romney’s large and, by all accounts tight-knit, family.
“I understand Mitt’s going to release his tax forms this week,” she said. “I want to remind you where we know our riches are. Our riches are with our families.”
Who asked for his opinion anyway?