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Gingrich, enjoying rise in fortunes, sasses 'establishment' backing Romney

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Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney out and about the day after South Carolina's GOP presidential primary awarded Gingrich the victory.AP

The Newt Gingrich campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, fresh off a stunning surge and upset victory over Mitt Romney, said Monday that the candidate had raised more than a million dollars in just hours -- money that is much needed as the primary battle moves into Florida.

The former speaker of the House of Representatives ravaged the sense of inevitability surrounding Romney's second run for the nomination, with a remarkable 12-percentage point defeat of the former Massachusetts governor in Saturday's South Carolina primary election. But the next contest, in the far larger and more diverse state of Florida on Jan. 31, will require huge spending on television advertising and Gingrich so far has been underfunded.

Gingrich sudden rise of fortunes has relied on the free media attention he has gained through stellar televised debate performances, particularly the one last Thursday in South Carolina. He roundly attacked what he termed the "elite" media and political class, then went on to trounce the patrician Romney, a former venture capitalist whose wealth is estimated at between $170 million and $250 million.

Monday morning Gingrich took pleasure in the discomfort he is causing among the Republican establishment that backs Romney.

"I think you're going to see the establishment go crazy in the next week or two," he said on ABC television.

Gingrich moves toward the Florida primary vote claiming that he, not Romney, is the candidate best able to deny President Barack Obama a second term in the White House in the November election. Obama is vulnerable this year over his handling of the slow U.S. economic recovery from the Great Recession, the deepest economic downturn since the 1930s depression.

The Gingrich campaign said the candidate is using the influx of money to hire additional staff and to open new offices in Florida, a key swing state in the general election.

Romney has responded to his drubbing in South Carolina, where until just days ago he was expected to win and seal the Republican nomination as the inevitable candidate to challenge Obama, by going on the attack against Gingrich.

"He had to resign in disgrace. I don't know whether you knew that," Romney said of Gingrich's time as House speaker in the 1990s. Gingrich was given an ethics reprimand by the lower congressional chamber and fined $300,000. Gingrich also carries the baggage of three marriages and acknowledged marital infidelities, facts that should deny him support from the evangelical Christian base of the party. But those voters clearly overlooked Gingrich's past in South Carolina, one of the most conservative U.S. states. The primary there was the first in a Southern state.

Behind the scenes, aides also indicated that Romney would go after Gingrich's character in Florida as a way to distinguish himself -- a father of five who has been married to the same woman for 42 years -- from his rival. And the aides argued that the results in South Carolina don't indicate Republican primary voters everywhere are willing to overlook Gingrich's past.

Publicly, Romney has refused to engage on the subject, saying at a debate Thursday: "Let's get onto the real issues. That's all I got to say." He was responding to a debate question about an ABC News interview with Gingrich's second wife, Marianne, who said the former speaker asked her for an open marriage so he could continue having an affair with the House staffer who is now his third wife.

It was an angrier, more aggressive Romney who took the stage at a rally in Florida on Sunday. He shouted back and forth with the crowd after Occupy Wall Street hecklers interrupted him and rattled off a list of leadership qualities, drawing cheers after each, in a rare back-and-forth with the crowd.

Romney also attacked Gingrich's time working for the quasi-government mortgage giant Freddie Mac, calling again for him to release records related to his consulting work for them. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are public-private organizations that guarantee private mortgages and have been roundly criticized for their alleged role in the near financial meltdown in the final months of the George W. Bush administration.

As the Florida campaign heats up, former Pennsylvanian Sen. Rick Santorum will be battling to rise above third place, where he finished in South Carolina. The remaining candidate, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, is foregoing campaigning in the state.