After Romney campaign surrogate Rep. Jason Chaffetz showed up at a Gingrich campaign event in Mount Dora, Florida to talk to media about Gingrich's speech, Gingrich campaign spokesman RC Hammond turned his audio recorder on the congressman.
JACKSONVILLE, FL -- Surrogates for Mitt Romney are out in full force today at events for his GOP rival, Newt Gingrich, further proving that the battle between the two GOP presidential frontrunners is in full swing.
"The campaign is entering a phase now where we are defining the terms of the Florida race," a source close to the Romney campaign told NBC News.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R–UT), Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL), and Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), in addition to two Romney staffers, all attended events of the former House speaker today in the Sunshine State, a development about which the Gingrich campaign seemed less than pleased.
Gingrich campaign spokesman, R.C. Hammond, even approached Rep. Chaffetz following a Gingrich event in Mount Dora, resulting in a long back and forth between the two men.
“I just had a couple questions. Do you own any stock in Freddie Mac? Have you ever lobbied for them? A lot of members of the Romney campaign have lobbied, have you ever lobbied for Freddie?” Hammond began his laundry list of questions for the sitting member of Congress who endorsed Romney.
“This is really what you have to do right now?” Chaffetz replied in disbelief.
“So you’ve never voted on anything that impacts the housing market? Do you have a mortgage?” Hammond, wearing sunglasses and holding a tape recorder, continued to press the Congressman.
“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,” Chaffetz finally said.
This tit-for-tat continued for the next several minutes turning to topics of Gingrich not being able to get on the ballot of his home state of Virginia to using the Thomas System to look up legislative records.
“The campaign is rattled. They don’t like being challenged on the facts and it shows,” Romney adviser Dave Kochel told NBC News about the altercation following the Speaker’s second event.
The Romney surrogates, according to a campaign source, are attending these events to rebut the speaker and provide another narrative to the press. They stand in the back and talk to press when approached, rarely speaking to voters unless the voter initiates conversation.
"With what he's out there saying and doing right now, we've go stay on top of him pretty close cause otherwise he'll get away with telling people Romney is anti-immigrant,” the source close to the Romney campaign said. “So that's why we're going to stick close here and not let him make those charges."
While the former Massachusetts governor and his staff may feel the need to send his supporters to his rival’s events, Gingrich, however, does not feel it is necessary for his campaign.
“He doesn’t say anything worth rebutting,” Gingrich said during a press conference Thursday morning. “I mean we would send somebody if we thought it was a useful exercise.”
Chaffetz believes that sending surrogates “is all part of the game” and said he would do whatever necessary to get Romney elected president, including trailing the Speaker.
“Remember it was Newt Gingrich who said he was going to follow President Obama everywhere he went,” Chaffetz said.
In almost every stump speech, Gingrich tells the crowd that if President Obama does not agree to do seven Lincoln-Douglas style debates with him as the nominee, the White House will become his scheduler and he will show up wherever President Obama speaks 4 hours afterwards to rebut him.
The Congressman even brought that point up in the exchange with Gingrich’s spokesman but was told he had it wrong.
“But you have to be the president to be followed around,” Hammond shot back at Chaffetz after suggesting Gingrich gave them the idea to attend events.
The Romney campaign plans to bring surrogates to as many Gingrich events as they can.