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Beneath Romney-Gingrich struggle, a tense struggle for direction of GOP

Published Jan. 30, 2012

THE VILLAGES — Newt Gingrich is determined to turn the next seven months into a battle between conservative activists and the Republican establishment.

"The Washington establishment is coming unglued," Gingrich said Sunday before several thousand people in The Villages. "I am not running for president to manage the decay of the U.S. to the satisfaction of the establishment. And I am not running for president of the U.S. to make the Wall Street elite and the Washington elite happy."

Gingrich made the case across the state as polls showed Mitt Romney opening his lead heading into Tuesday's Florida primary. Gingrich vowed to continue his campaign and asserted that his rival will struggle to secure the needed delegates before the August Republican National Convention in Tampa.

"I think Romney's got a very real challenge," Gingrich said after attending morning services at Idlewild Baptist Church in north Tampa.

Gingrich is trying to harness the conflicted energy coursing through the Republican Party. Romney has the money, the organization and the looks of a winner. But on the ground level, there is angst over his past moderate positions.

It is the same dynamic that early on marked Florida's 2010 U.S. Senate race, where Marco Rubio challenged establishment pick Charlie Crist, and in the national congressional elections that year that saw a wave of successful tea party candidates. (story here)