Of the 1,000 or so people at Newt Gingrich’s Thursday morning rally in Mt. Dora, Fla., at least two weren’t there to support the former House speaker. They were there on behalf of his chief rival.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who has endorsed Mitt Romney, and Dave Kochel, a Romney staffer, mingled with reporters while Gingrich spoke. Gingrich spent most of his speech railing against Romney, calling him “dishonest” and a “hypocrite.”
Perhaps Chaffetz and Kochel overstayed their welcome, though. After the event, Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond – tape recorder in hand – confronted the Romney surrogates, pestering Chaffetz with questions on whether he’s lobbied for government-backed mortgage lender Freddie Mac. It’s the same charge the Romney campaign has leveled at Gingrich.
Here is part of their exchange:
R.C. Hammond, Gingrich spokesman: A lot of members of the Romney campaign have lobbied. Have you ever lobbied for Freddie (Mac)? When you have to vote on their stuff, how do you get your information?
Rep. Jason Chaffetz: This is really what you have to do right now? (laughs)
Hammond: So you’ve never voted on anything that impacts the housing market?
Chaffetz: I’m very involved in the oversight committee.
Hammond: So how do you obtain all your information?
Chaffetz: (shakes his head)
Hammond: You don’t? So you don’t obtain any information on housing before voting on it? Do you have a mortgage?
Chaffetz: Yeah, I have a mortgage.
Hammond: Okay, so how did you obtain information about your mortgage?
Chaffetz: (shakes head) Is this really what you’re doing? I’m sorry. I’m happy to answer questions from people with press credentials but from the Gingrich campaign – probably not.
Hammond: Ok, so you don’t want answer any of our questions? Did you know that anybody that was advising the governor had lobbied for Freddie? Were you aware of that before you endorsed him?
Chaffetz: You guys sound a little desperate. You’ve got a little gaggle over there if you wanna . . . (points to group of reporters waiting for a news conference)
Hammond: We just surveyed the crowd and asked how many members of the establishment were here and they said only you.
Chaffetz: Um, that would be Mr. Gingrich who’s the establishment.
Chaffetz: I will answer questions from the press. That’s fine.
Hammond: Okay, so, the people, you’re not accountable to them?
Chaffetz: Yes, I’m very accountable to them. That’s why I’m doing so well. That’s why we need a change and we’ve got to make sure that it’s not Newt Gingrich at the top of the ticket. I want to win. I want to beat Barack Obama.
Surrogates for the Romney campaign have been at Gingrich events since he began campaigning in Florida earlier this week. Asked why he wasn’t sending surrogates to rebut Romney, Gingrich said in a press conference, “He doesn’t say anything worth rebutting. I mean, we would send somebody if we thought it was a useful exercise.”