MIAMI — Michele Bachmann popped unexpectedly into South Florida on Thursday and started throwing haymakers at Republican presidential frontrunners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.
Bachmann called Gingrich an "influence peddler" and said he has flip-flopped just like Romney. And voters won't buy it, she said.
"They want to know what's the truth," she said at an appearance at the Weston Fort Lauderdale. "They're not interested in a chameleon."
Just the day before, Gingrich took umbrage at Bachmann's criticism of his immigration plan and called her "factually challenged" — a comment that highlighted the Minnesota congresswoman's penchant for gaffes and misstatements.
The verbal tussles between the candidates is becoming more common as the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses draw closer, followed by New Hampshire and South Carolina. Florida — the largest and most influential swing state — holds its primary Jan. 31. Amid the criticisms of each other, all the candidates say President Barack Obama has been a failure.
A spate of recent state and national polls show Gingrich is running away with the nomination — at least for now. Three surveys released Wednesday and Thursday show Gingrich, once polling in the single digits, garnering between 40 percent to 50 percent of the Republican vote in Florida. Romney barely gets 20 percent.
Bachmann, once a top-tier candidate, gets only 1 percent of the vote in the latest Florida poll, conducted by American Research Group, which had her at 15 percent in July.
Bachmann's support collapsed when Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race just after she won the Iowa straw poll. Perry, rocketing to the top of the pack, then fell apart after bad debate performances and liberal-sounding positions on immigration. Then it was Herman Cain's turn to lead, but he's deflating amid a round of allegations of sexual misconduct.
"One thing that I think that we've seen are the surprises that have come up so far," Bachmann said, touting her new website nosurprises2012.com. "Of all the candidates, I'm the one who doesn't have" surprises.
But she has had a knack for misspeaking and giving false information. Of all the presidential candidates, she's one of the most likely to make a false statement, according to the fact-checking website PolitiFact.com.
"She needed to stop saying false or stupid things a while ago," said political consultant Matt Towery, CEO of the Atlanta-based polling firm Insider/Advantage. "But Newt needs to stop saying much of anything. He needs to focus and not be his own worst enemy."
Towery, who used to work for Gingrich when he was House speaker, said he was "shocked" by his own and other polls showing Gingrich winning in Florida, Iowa and South Carolina. He said, though, that Gingrich can be his own worst enemy by mouthing off, as he did when he swiped at Bachmann.
Bachmann has insisted that Gingrich supports giving amnesty to an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants. Gingrich says he hasn't, but believes some should be allowed to stay as residents — not citizens — if they've been in the United States for years, raised families, paid taxes and stayed out of trouble.
When asked about Bachmann's criticisms, Gingrich said she was "factually challenged" and suggested her situation was like an "unfortunate" case from school.
"When I was a teacher I occasionally had a student who couldn't figure out where things were or what things were or what the right date was," he said. "When that happens, you feel sorry that they are so factually challenged."
Asked about those comments, Bachmann said Gingrich is changing his tune, having penned a letter in the Wall Street Journal where he advocated for what she said was amnesty.
"A professor doesn't like to be challenged," she said. "But I think his real challenge is a memory challenge."
Bachmann began her press conference touting her 11-point plan to rescue the economy. She spoke of the decline in home values and how it hurts states like Florida. The only woman in the race, Bachmann specifically appealed to women, saying they were particularly hard hit by the economy.
During a question-and answer session, Bachmann soon pivoted to Romney and to Gingrich, whom she criticized for what she called lobbying.
"Newt Gingrich has been a part of Washington, D.C., for over three decades," she said, saying his claim to being a conservative outsider "is really not plausible" because he "has been all over the map on his political positions and also this year alone has taken in over $100 million alone for the purpose of influence peddling in Washington, D.C. His offices are located in the Rodeo Drive of Washington, D.C., which is K Street. And that influence peddling is not consistent with trying to portray yourself as an outsider."
Bachmann then ticked off Gingrich's support for a Wall Street bailout, a global-warming initiative with former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Obama's course of action in Libya.
Then it was Romney's turn.
"If you look at Mitt Romney, he has the same problems," she said. "He has been very inconsistent on his positions. He has been on both sides of the abortion issue, on both sides of the issue of same-sex marriage — he in fact signed 189 marriage licenses for same-sex couples for the state of Massachusetts when he was governor."