ORLANDO, Fla. -- Walk to the back of any Newt Gingrich campaign event in Florida and you're likely to run into a few members of the U.S. House who are decidedly not backing the former speaker. In fact, they're all surrogates for Mitt Romney.
Reps. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.), Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) and Connie Mack (R-Fla.) have all been taking turns going around the state to Gingrich's events, available to talk to the media -- and any Gingrich backers who may recognize them.
But on at least three occasions, they have also gotten into skirmishes with Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond.
It started on Thursday morning in Mount Dora, Fla., when Hammond confronted Chaffetz.
Chaffetz told The Huffington Post that Hammond came up to him with an audio recorder and started bombarding him with questions about whether he supported Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
"I am a citizen with questions. He is a congressman without answers," Hammond told The Huffington Post later in the day.
Hammond went at it again on Friday, asking Chaffetz if he wanted a seat on Gingrich's charter plane. When a reporter asked whether Hammond's tone to the congressman was appropriate, Hammond replied, "Sure. He's a citizen like everyone else. I think we're pointing out the fact that the Romney campaign is running scared. They're looking for any opportunity to distort."
It happened again on Saturday morning, this time with Connie Mack in Port St. Lucie. But this time, Mack was ready, according to the Washington Post, and "quickly began browbeating him about Gingrich's work for Freddie Mac, the federally backed mortgage giant that paid him $1.6 million for consulting work."
"Apparently, he's very sensitive about people asking questions about Newt Gingrich and his relationship with Freddie Mac. So he tries to intimidate us and bully us out of the way," Mack told The Huffington Post at Gingrich's Hispanic Town Hall in Orlando Saturday afternoon. "We're not doing anything different than what other campaigns are. Bracketing events is a normal thing. You know, you're in the business. But apparently he gets very sensitive about people asking questions about Newt Gingrich's relationship with Freddie Mac."
He added that it was a sign that the Gingrich campaign was getting "desperate."
"You can just tell this is a campaign in decline," he said.
Gingrich's Hispanic Town Hall was nearly empty. Roughly 60 seats out of the 480 seats at Centro de la Familia Cristiana were filled by attendees, according to an estimate by the Miami Herald.
Gingrich arrived 55 minutes late and then spoke for less than 10 minutes. Though the event was billed as a town hall, audience members were not allowed to stand up and ask questions. He did stick around to take photos and chat with attendees one-on-one, although he typically does that at every event.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Hammond said he thought turnout for the event was "very good," and he declined to say why Gingrich was late.
When asked whether Gingrich gave the green light to Hammond's confrontations with the Romney surrogates, Hammond replied, "He certainly hasn't discouraged it."
The following Gingrich event, the Orange County Liberty Counsel Forum at the Aloma Baptist Church in Winter Park, Fla., was much more filled out. The conservative audience gave Gingrich several standing ovations for his answers on defunding Planned Parenthood, moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and opposing embryonic stem cell research.
Watch the confrontation between Hammond and Mack (via The Washington Times:
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