JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Republican presidential contenders Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are blaming each other for the staggering rate of home foreclosures in Florida and elsewhere in the United States ahead of Tuesday's Florida primary.
Gingrich, a former House speaker, charged Thursday that Romney has been profiting from Florida's foreclosure rate -- which is three times higher than the national average -- because the former Massachusetts governor invested in Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street giant that was targeted for misconduct in processing housing foreclosures.
"I think someone who owns stock in a place that forecloses on Floridians has a lot of gall to start raising the issue," Gingrich said at a Tea Party rally in Mount Dora, Fla. "I think we ought to find out how much money [Romney] has made over the years foreclosing on Floridians."
Romney collected $367,200 in campaign contributions from Goldman Sachs employees and their families through Sept. 30, the latest fundraising data available, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. Romney also profited from Goldman Sachs' investments in mortgage-backed securities, financial instruments central to the Wall Street meltdown.
"[Romney] wants to run a campaign where he drowns me in mud with money he raises from people who are foreclosing on Floridians," Gingrich said. "I want to cut through the mud."
Gingrich was firing back after Romney first tried to tie Gingrich to Florida's devastated housing market by focusing on the $1.6 million Gingrich earned in consulting fees from Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage giant that Republicans blame for fueling the nation's housing bust.
"These government-sponsored enemies in the case of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are a large reason our housing crisis has occurred," Romney told a crowd of Floridians gathered in front of a foreclosed home in Lehigh Acres, Fla. "I am running against a guy in this primary, who was out working for one of these guys, Freddie Mac."
Gingrich defended the Freddie Mac consulting fees, saying the mortgage firm hired him because he understood the history of Washington.
But Romney is already airing that same attack in a TV ad in another financially battered battleground state, Nevada, which leads the nation in housing foreclosures and whose caucuses are scheduled for Feb. 4.
"While Nevada families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in," a narrator says in the Romney ad. "Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis."
The battle between Gingrich and Romney has intensified as polls show them running in a virtual dead heat just days before Florida voters go to the polls. The race for the nomination has grown more muddled after three contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina each picked a different winner. Gingrich was surging after a come-from-behind victory over Romney in South Carolina, but he said his support is being undermined by Romney's "establishment" supporters and well-funded attack ads.
"We aren't stupid," a defiant Gingrich said. "The message we should give Mitt Romney is we aren't that stupid and you aren't that clever."