Cheered by new polls, Mitt Romney is all but predicting victory in today's Republican presidential primary. Newt Gingrich is looking past Florida to regroup, vowing he won't stay buried long.
"With a turnout like this, I'm beginning to feel we might win tomorrow," an upbeat Romney told a crowd of several hundred at a stop in Dunedin on Monday as he and Gingrich zipped across the state making their final appeals.
Gingrich, in turn, acknowledged that his momentum had been checked but promised not to back down. He characterized Romney as an impostor, and his team started to plot a strategy for upcoming contests.
And in biting terms, Gingrich, in an interview with Bloomberg News, accused Romney of being a "fundamentally dishonest" tool of Wall Street and pledged to stop big banking firms such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. from "rigging the game."
"He can bury me for a very short amount of time with four or five or six times as much money," Gingrich said in a television interview. "In the long run, the Republican Party is not going to nominate a liberal Republican."
Pressing his underdog campaign, Gingrich spoke of running a White House that would "challenge the system head-on" and disrupt the "Wall Street elite."
"To the degree they survive by rigging the game," Gingrich said in the Bloomberg interview, "they have a lot more to fear. To the degree that they're willing to be in a very investment-oriented, high-tempo, entrepreneurial world, they have more to gain."
GOP officials in Florida were anticipating a big turnout, more than 2 million voters, up from a record 1.9 million in the Republican primary in 2008. More than 605,000 Floridians had already voted as of Monday, either by visiting early voting stations or by mailing in absentee ballots, ahead of the total combined early vote in the GOP primary four years ago.
In the span of a volatile week, the tables have turned in this potentially pivotal primary state.
Gingrich rode a triumphant wave into Florida after a South Carolina victory nine days ago. But since then, Romney and his allies have pummeled the former House speaker on TV and on the campaign trail. Romney turned in two strong debate performances, while Gingrich faltered. Now opinion polls show the former Massachusetts governor with a comfortable lead here.
Romney is ahead of Gingrich by 42 percent to 27 percent among likely Republican primary voters, according to an NBC News-Marist poll released Sunday.
Romney and Gingrich have been the only two candidates to compete in Florida in earnest. Neither former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum nor Texas Rep. Ron. Paul campaigned much in the state, and they were elsewhere Monday.
Clearly in command, Romney flew to stops in media markets in northern Florida and the populous swing regions of central Florida, determined to keep Gingrich from surging late.
Romney renewed attacks on his rival as an untrustworthy, Washington influence peddler at the outset of two separate appearances Monday. He said Gingrich's ties to federally backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac have hurt the former speaker in a state racked by the foreclosure crisis.
"He made $1.6 million in his company, the very institution that helped stand behind the huge housing crisis here in Florida," Romney said in Dunedin. Gingrich's consulting firm received more than $1.5 million from the federally backed mortgage giant over a period after he left Congress in 1999.
Gingrich plowed ahead, flying to stops in northern Florida starting in Jacksonville -- near his home state of Georgia -- before touching down in conservative Pensacola and then Tampa.
"No politician, no judge, no bureaucrat can come between you and God," Gingrich told an audience in Tampa. "I'm a little bit tired of being lectured about respecting every other religion on the planet."
Gingrich, who has sought to wrap himself in the mantle of Ronald Reagan, campaigned with the late president's son Michael. He was also joined by former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who endorsed him Sunday.
A win by Romney would again reset the 2012 GOP race, seen early this month as his to lose, then thrown into doubt by Gingrich's come-from-behind win in South Carolina.
Meanwhile, Santorum denounced the "gutter politics" of his opponents as he turned his campaign away from a potentially futile effort in Florida in hopes of regaining momentum in the Midwest.
After spending what he described as a stressful weekend with his sick 3-year-old daughter, Santorum resumed his campaign at a suburban St. Louis community college -- assuring people that his daughter was improving and forecasting a political revival in swing states such as Missouri.
"I'm sick and tired of candidates who think they have to do anything that's necessary -- anything -- to win an election," Santorum told more than 300 people packed into an auditorium at St. Charles Community College. "We deserve better than the gutter politics that we've been seeing in this race."