There will be two Florida debates this week, including one Monday night at the University of South Florida that will air on NBC, the first primetime major-network broadcast of a GOP debate in this election cycle.
In Florida, only registered Republicans can vote in the primary, unlike the first three contests, in which independents could participate. Almost half of the ballots in New Hampshire and a quarter of those in South Carolina were cast by independent voters. Absentee ballots have been mailed and early in-person voting began Saturday in Florida. According to the Miami Herald, almost half a million absentee ballots have been requested and about 200,000 have already been returned. More than four million Republicans are registered to vote in Florida.
Romney campaign officials have signaled the gloves are off after Gingrich's behavior in South Carolina, focusing on Romney's income and business experience. "Romney will take it to Gingrich in the debates. This race now gets nasty," one of them told me.
Romney announced on "Fox News Sunday" that he will release his 2010 tax return on Tuesday, which should blunt some criticism. People already know he's rich (worth more than $200 million), that he paid about 15 percent in taxes because most of his income is from investments, and that he has accounts in the Cayman Islands, long associated with trying to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
But that doesn't mean Gingrich won't try to continue to use this against Romney, or that it wouldn't be a liability in the general election. CNN analyst and former presidential adviser David Gergen described Gingrich as "a street fighter that carries a switch blade" and wondered if the gentlemanly, button-down Romney has it in his DNA to go after Gingrich.
Conservative grassroots primary voters have never embraced Romney or his country-club Republican style, and they love that Gingrich is both pugnacious and outrageous. They can't stand Barack Obama and his policies and eat it up when the former speaker claims the president favors a European socialist-style agenda or labels him "the food-stamp-president."
In his election night speech Gingrich decried the "growing anti-religious bigotry of our elites" and talked about prayer in schools as if it is one of the burning issues of our time.
"The elites in New York and Washington", Gingrich claims, "want to force us to quit being American." And in an equally nonsensical claim, Gingrich said on "Meet the Press' that the "national establishment" wants to tell people "what they're allowed to think, what they're allowed to say."
It's no wonder Gingrich received the semi-endorsement of Sarah Palin.
But Gingrich, who had $3 million in income in 2010, was paid more than a million dollars from mortgage lender Freddie Mac and had a $500,000 revolving charge at Tiffany's, is also implausibly trying to style himself as the populist in the race and is borrowing part of the Occupy Wall Street message, referring to the "big boys on Wall Street" in his South Carolina speech. He has continually referred to Romney as "the establishment candidate".