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Romney fights campaign battles on two fronts


LEHIGH ACRES, FL -- Mitt Romney is a candidate fighting battles on two fronts.

The former Massachusetts governor is pushing ahead with a two-pronged attack, one on President Obama, the president against whom Romney has longed to battle in the general election, and Newt Gingrich, the latest Republican to claim the mantle as the prime conservative challenger to Romney, the candidate who could upset Romney's presidential aspirations.

Romney took aim at Gingrich on Tuesday in South Florida, speaking from the dusty lawn of a foreclosed home in a state that was particularly ravaged by the collapse in the housing market.

"I noted that he has been working as an influence peddler, let me tell you how that works. He gets paid $1.6 million dollars, he says as an historian. I am waiting to see the history he wrote for Freddie Mac," Romney said this afternoon of Gingrich, reprising an attack line from last night's debate. "I'd like to see the work product. I'd like him to release the work that he did. And let us see what it was and the volumes of the work that he did or the reports that he made. Let's see what he was doing."

The attacks relating to Gingrich's dealings with failed housing lender Freddie Mac have become central to Romney's assault on Gingrich, who he has repeatedly labeled an "influence peddler" here in Florida. Since limping here after his defeat in South Carolina on Saturday, half of Romney's events in Florida, which has the sixth-highest foreclosure rate in the nation, have revolved around housing in some form or fashion. Each of those has included new attacks on Gingrich.

"[Gingrich] was standing up and defending Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and so conservatives in Congress and conservatives around the country instead of arguing to get rid of these entities, to scale the market back and get rid of these guys, they said well if Newt Gingrich thinks it's a good idea, why, we ought to go along with it," Romney said. "That's what's known as influence peddling. You get paid and then you go out and say things that influence other people. That's the nature of what's been going on in this country. It is wrong, it must stop, we can't have influence peddlers leading our party."

But while the afternoon's event focused primarily on holding off Gingrich -- Romney discussed very little of his own housing policy -- it was a study in contrasts from his event in the morning, when Romney delivered a "pre-buttal" to Obama's third State of the Union address.

"This president has run out of ideas. This president has run out of excuses. In 2012 we've got to make sure that he is run out of the office of the White House," Romney said.

The two events illustrate how Romney has sought to straddle the line between primary and general election candidate. He had hued to the GOP's so-called "Eleventh Commandment," which prohibits attacks among fellow Republicans, for the first few months of the campaign. Romney effectively wore blinders to other candidates' attacks, and stuck to striking Obama at each turn. He dispatched Texas Gov. Rick Perry almost exclusively through debates, leaning on his own strong performances and Perry's gaffes.

Romney's campaign had been able to sit back and allow the super PAC supporting him, Restore our Future, to level the most devastating attacks on his behalf. But now, as NBC News has reported, Gingrich will begin his own multimillion-dollar aerial campaign, and Democratic groups continue to keep Romney -- not Gingrich -- in their crosshairs.

The fate of Romney's campaign may depend on how well he and his campaign can manage two wars at the same time. Already, they're on-air in Florida with their own attacks on the ex-speaker.