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How’d It Play In Florida? Newt’s Lobbying Is The Lead

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The Orlando Sentinel used the LA Times filing to give its readers a recap of last night’s debate. As predicted, the story from the debate is Newt’s lobbying for Freddie Mac, the sort of focus that the former Speaker cannot welcome:

As part of his newly aggressive posture, Romney brought up an old issue: the work Gingrich did for Freddie Mac, the federally backed mortgage guarantor, which many Republicans blame for the housing meltdown. The attack could have particular resonance in Florida, where the real estate and construction industries, two mainstays of the economy, were flattened by the foreclosure crisis and housing tracts lay abandoned.

Gingrich’s consulting firm was paid more than $1.6 million by the mortgage giant – not to lobby, he adamantly insists, but to lend his perspective as “a historian.” Romney scoffed at that assertion.
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“They don’t pay people $25,000 a month for six years as historians,” he said. Later, he brought up Gingrich’s work for healthcare companies. “I call it influence peddling,” Romney said. “It is not right.”

Gingrich had insisted early on that he would not spend the evening “trying to chase Gov. Romney’s misinformation.” But after visibly trying to keep his emotions in check, Gingrich boiled over. He said the debate had become “unnecessarily personal and nasty” and called Romney’s claim that he lobbied “defamatory and factually false.”

In a preemptive move shortly before the debate, Gingrich’s former consulting company released a copy of its 2006 contract with Freddie Mac. The document offered scant detail; just a single paragraph described the “scope of services and fees,” saying Gingrich’s firm was paid $25,000 a month but offering no explanation of the work that was done.

Over at Real Clear Politics, Scott Conroy pulls this Romney quote as key:

“I don’t think we can possibly retake the White House if the person who’s leading our party is the person who was working for the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac,” Romney said. “Freddie Mac was paying Speaker Gingrich $1.6 million at the same time Freddie Mac was costing the people of Florida millions upon millions of dollars.”

Conroy also zoomed in on an exchange I expect will find its way into a few ads:

In response to the attacks on his work at Freddie Mac, Gingrich reasserted that his role there was based largely on his “knowledge of history, including the history of Washington.”

That answer did not satisfy Romney.

“You can call it whatever you like,” he said. “I call it influence peddling. It is not right. It is not right. You have a conflict.”

A lot of folks speculated that Governor Haley Barbour didn’t run for the presidency because a lobbyist simply couldn’t win, even after two successful terms as a governor. Newt will test that theory.

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