ORLANDO, Fla. -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was upbeat and energetic after his solid debate performance in Jacksonville the night before, telling the crowd at a rally on Friday evening, "I had fun last night, I gotta tell 'ya!"
He used the opportunity to take a shot at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who failed to deliver the blow needed to knock Romney from his momentum in the run-up to Tuesday's Florida primary.
"Speaker Gingrich said the debate before last night -- that the crowd wasn't allowed to cheer, and so he couldn't do so well because the crowd was too quiet," said Romney, referring to the NBC News debate where the audience was asked to hold its applause. "Then last night, he said the crowd was too loud. It's like Goldilocks. This porridge is too hot, this porridge is too cold."
Romney then told the crowd how eager he was to debate President Barack Obama -- a line traditionally used by Gingrich, who argues that he is best positioned to win a general election debate.
"I'm looking forward to debating Barack Obama," said Romney. "I'm not going to worry about the crowd. I'm going to make sure that we tell the truth about Barack Obama and get him out of the White House."
Former Sen. Rick Santorum also recently invoked Goldilocks, saying Gingrich was "hot, radioactive" and Romney was "cold, timid" -- but he was "just right."
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno (R) gave opening remarks at the rally, held at the warehouse of the Lanco Paint Co. Fortuno officially endorsed Romney at the event.
McCain acknowledged Romney's strong debate performance, saying, "Very rarely at these things do you see a knockout. You saw one last night. You saw Mitt Romney at his best."
McCain called for an end to the debates, saying there were too many.
"It's time to stop the debates. We've had enough -- 19. Let's have our candidates come out and do this kind of thing," McCain said, referring to the rally. "This is what political campaigns are about. The candidate coming and meeting the people, and the people coming to see the candidate. That's what it's all about, and that's what it should be about. I'm tired of the mud-wrestling, aren't you?"
"I think Romney killed him [Gingrich]," agreed David Burr, an Orlando resident who came to the rally and is backing Romney. "It's about time that Romney -- Romney's moral fiber is not to attack people. It's just not his make-up. I'm glad that he did a little attacking last night. I think that Newt needs to be exposed a little bit for what he is, and that's definitely a Washington insider."
Dislike of Gingrich was palpable at the Romney rally, although attendees said they would still back him if he he becomes the GOP nominee. Because in the end, he's still better than Obama, they said.
"The Tea Party conservatives and conservatives all over the place have been demanding that we change Washington. Well how in the world do you change Washington if you're going to send back people who have been in Washington for the last 30 years?" said Brenda Copley, an Orlando resident, referring to Gingrich, Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.).
Copley, who identified herself as a "conservative family-values Republican," said she was also uneasy with Gingrich's personal life and how it would reflect on the party if he became president.
"I think it sends a terrible message to our youth and to our married couples about fidelity and commitment," she said. "For us to refer to his wife as a first lady is an insult to all other faithful husbands and women who are married and faithful to each other, because she was his mistress for six years and she wrecked his home. Literally, she broke up his marriage. I think that's not an image that the Republican conservative party should be giving domestically or internationally."
Copley's husband, Dick, said he was upset at the attacks Romney has been taking from Democrats for the way he made his money, saying it amounted to class warfare.
"We've been hearing that for the last 50 years," Dick Copley said. "Those darn rich people. I tell them, 'I know rich people. They're smarter than me, they work harder than me, they get better ideas, they get up earlier than I do. They didn't inherit it, and they're not crooks. ... And they also create jobs.' It's class warfare, and Obama is the best at that. He loves class warfare, because his base is on the base, and those folks put him in."
"Why is it we can support the ones who are underprivileged and needy, but we can't support the ones who worked hard and got somewhere?" added Sharon Rousey from Seminole County, who was standing nearby.
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