If Republican voters select Newt Gingrich as the party's 2012 presidential nominee they would be handing President Barack Obama a second term in the White House, the campaign for Mitt Romney claimed last night.
Two days after Mr Romney suffered a double-digit defeat at the hands of Mr Gingrich in South Carolina, his campaign team opened what is set to be a pitiless barrage of attacks against the former House Speaker before the Florida primary one week from today.
Mr Gingrich presents a huge target. He was fined $300,000 for ethics violations while he was speaker. After leaving Congress he earned $1.7m in consulting fees from Freddie Mac, the government-backed lender reviled by conservatives for its role in abetting the housing crash. He is currently with his third wife and ditched the previous two when both were ill.
Yet for now he is connecting with voters in part because of his skills on the debate stage. The first of two debates in Florida was aired last night and a second is set for Thursday.
"The possibility of Newt Gingrich being our nominee against Barack Obama, I think, is essentially handing the election over to Obama if it got to that point," Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, said in a conference call on behalf of the Romney campaign.