TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Jan. 31 (UPI) — Newt Gingrich defiantly predicted “a decisive victory” in the Florida primary election, despite polls putting him as much as 20 points behind Mitt Romney.
“All our friends in the news media who are very excited and eager to end this race as early as possible — they all want to know what’s going to happen after Florida,” the former House speaker told an Orlando crowd Monday night.
“And I keep trying getting across to them — I am in this race where Ronald Reagan was in 1976,” Gingrich said. “We are going to tell the truth, we’re going to beat a big-lie campaign with a big-truth campaign, we’re going to beat money power with people power, we are going to go all the way to the convention and we are going to win in Tampa, and we are going to be the nominee with your help.”
Reagan lost the 1976 nomination to incumbent President Gerald Ford, who lost the November election to Jimmy Carter. Reagan won both nomination and election in 1980, defeating Carter.
The Republican National Convention is to be held in Tampa, Fla., the week of Aug. 27.
Gingrich campaigned Monday with Reagan son Michael and former GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain.
Opinion polls indicate Gingrich is behind Romney by at least 5 percentage points to as much as 20 points.
Gingrich trounced Romney by nearly 13 points in the South Carolina primary Jan. 21.
“We are promising, with your help, we are going to communicate the truth better than the consultants can communicate falsehoods,” Gingrich told the Orlando audience.
“With your help, we are going to win a decisive victory [Tuesday],” he said. “With your help, we’re going to go on to win across the whole country, and with your help, starting in Tampa, we’re going to run a general election campaign.”
Gingrich’s campaign said Monday it planned to win enough delegates in the coming months to force a brokered convention in Tampa, where GOP delegates choose their party’s nominees for president and vice president.
A brokered convention happens when a single presidential hopeful does not get enough delegates through the presidential primary and caucus elections to have a pre-existing majority. At that point, nominations are decided through political horse-trading and multiple delegate votes.
Romney confidently told a crowd of several hundred in Dunedin, Fla., near St. Petersburg, “With a turnout like this, I’m beginning to feel we might win [Tuesday].”
He questioned Gingrich’s vow to fight for the nomination beyond Florida.
“When you say I’m going to go on no matter what happens, that’s usually not a good sign,” Romney said. “That’s usually an indication … you think you’re going to lose.”
He sought to link Gingrich’s consulting work for mortgage guarantor Freddie Mac to Florida’s housing crisis.
“I know the speaker’s not real happy,” Romney said. “Here in Florida, if you’re part of the housing crisis you’re probably not going to get elected president.”
Romney and Gingrich are the only candidates campaigning in Florida.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Rep. Ron. Paul of Texas campaigned in other states Monday.
Santorum had left the campaign trail when his youngest daughter had a health emergency but returned after her health began to improve. He was in Missouri and Minnesota Monday, and was to campaign in Colorado Tuesday morning and watch the Florida primary results from his Nevada campaign headquarters in Las Vegas.
Paul, who spent the weekend in Maine, was to be in Colorado Tuesday as well.
Florida Republican Party officials said they expected 1.5 million to 2 million voters to turn out Tuesday.
More than 30 percent of the expected GOP primary votes had already been cast by Monday through absentee or early balloting allowed under state law, the party said.
Florida is a closed-primary state, so only registered Republicans can take part in the election.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Florida is in the Eastern time zone, except for part of the Florida panhandle west of the Apalachicola River, which is in the Central time zone.