Jacksonville, Florida (CNN) – In a nod to one of Florida's key voting blocs, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich attacked Mitt Romney Monday for vetoing funding for kosher food in nursing homes when he was governor of Massachusetts.
"Governor Romney imposed activities on the Catholic hospitals against their opposition religious institution, refused them to allow right of conscience in Romneycare," Gingrich said. "Just as, by the way, he eliminated serving kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare. I did not know this, it just came out yesterday."
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The crowd responded to the plight of these elderly residents with a collective audible groan.
The former House speaker was referring to a report over the weekend about a bill Romney vetoed in Massachusetts in 2003 to "reject $600,000 in additional funds for poor Jewish nursing-home residents to get kosher meals."
According to the New York Post story, that money was later restored in an amendment approved by the state legislature. Romney's veto came during a fiscal crisis in Massachusetts when vetoes to spending provisions were common. In 2003 Romney issued line-item vetoes on hundreds of spending provisions in the state legislature's proposed budget.
Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul said Gingrich's attack revealed the former speaker's desperation.
“It’s sad to see Speaker Gingrich lashing out in a desperate attempt to try and save his floundering campaign," Saul said. "Speaker Gingrich will say anything to distract voters from the fact that he suffered an unprecedented ethics reprimand, was forced to pay a $300,000 penalty, and resigned in disgrace at the hands of his own party. His record is one of failed and unreliable leadership and simply one Americans can't risk."
In Jacksonville, his first of five campaign stops the day before the Florida primary, Gingrich was making the case that the national health care law was modeled after the statewide health plan implemented when Romney was governor.
In 2008, Jewish voters accounted for 3% of the electorate in the GOP primary.