PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- Mitt Romney went after fellow Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Saturday for the former House speaker's ethics violations while in Congress, a common line of attack by the former Massachusetts governor's campaign but less frequently employed by the candidate himself.
"I'm running against Speaker Gingrich, for instance, he's a very nice fellow," Romney said, as the crowd booed. "He's an historian. But that doesn't give him the right to rewrite history."
Romney tends to go after President Barack Obama in his stump speeches, leaving the attacks on Gingrich to his campaign staff. The campaign has hammered Gingrich for his ethics violations in multiple ads and statements, including one that congratulated him, mockingly, on the 15-year anniversary of the reprimand from his colleagues.
On Saturday, the campaign released an ad, "History Lesson" that used using archived news footage of NBC's Tom Brokaw on Jan. 21, 1997 -- the day that Gingrich was found guilty of ethics violations.
NBC promptly requested that the ad be taken down, quoting Brokaw as saying he was "extremely uncomfortable" with being a part of political ads. "I do not want my role as a journalist compromised for political gain by any campaign," he said in a statement released by NBC.
Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told reporters after the Panama City event that the campaign is reviewing the letter, but believes that the footage was taken under fair use and meant to expose Gingrich's explanations of the ethics violation as "fanciful."
"We thought it would be useful to go back and look at the 'Nightly News' opened on the very day that Gingrich was reprimanded, and what they pointed out is that Speaker Gingrich came to Washington preaching a higher standard and instead was laid low by his own ethics violations," Fehrnstrom said.
"I think it's useful to remind people that Newt Gingrich went to Washington to change things and he failed. Washington changed him," he added.
During the Panama City rally, Romney took up the same message in his own words. He said that the Republicans expected good things from Gingrich after he helped the party regain a majority in the House of Representatives and wrote the Contract for America. But his ethics violations ruined that reputation, and caused him to "resign in disgrace," Romney said.
After a man yelled out that Gingrich failed, Romney stopped mid-sentence. "You're right, he failed," he said.
"We have to go back and look at history and say, he may be a great guy with a lot of great ideas, but he is not the leader that we need at a critical time," he said of Gingrich. "This will be an historic election and we need to have someone who has been a leader and succeeded at being a leader. I have and I will lead America back to strength."
As HuffPost's Jon Ward reported, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond slammed the ad in a campaign press release titled, "Another Big Lie From the Romney Campaign."
"The Romney campaign is up with another false ad attacking Speaker Gingrich. This time their false ad shows news coverage from 1997 after the House of Representatives voted to reprimand Speaker Gingrich," Hammond wrote. "What the Romney campaign is hoping the American people don’t remember is that in 1999, the IRS cleared Speaker Gingrich of the substance of the ethics committee investigation."