MIAMI -- The nastiest campaign is about to get nastier -- and will stay that way all the way to November. The Democrats are planning to play the game the same way the Republicans have been playing it: on character more than issues.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) is down but certainly not out, and planning to take an even lower road between now and Super Tuesday on March 6. Romney's Florida co-chair says politics is a "full-contact sport" and vows more of the same. But Democrats, while enjoying the spectacle of Republican self-immolation, are preparing their own version of the politics of personal destruction against former Massachusetts Gov. Romney, the man they remain convinced will be the GOP nominee.
Studying the flow of ads and campaigning in Florida, top Democratic strategists think Romney has left himself vulnerable not so much on issues, such as health care, but on the question of who he is as a person and a campaigner.
In other words, it's not about Bain Capital, it's about Romney's character, or so the Democrats are beginning to claim.
Independent voters, watching the proceedings here, don't like what they are learning about Romney, said Brad Woodhouse of the Democratic National Committee. The advertising and rhetoric in Florida was all negative; none of it touted Romney's agenda, accomplishments or beliefs.
"If you look at polls in the battleground states, you see that people are getting a negative view of him," Woodhouse said. "Independent voters don't like a candidate who is all-negative, and that is the way he campaigned in Florida. More than that, they don't like a candidate who seems willing to say anything. They don't trust him."
These are not surprising comments by a Democratic spokesman, but they nevertheless are revealing. They presage a personal, name-calling campaign on behalf of President Barack Obama, who himself is suffering from at-best tepid job-approval ratings.
Democrats are planning to portray Romney's say-anything-do-anything advertising and rhetorical tactics as windows into his character, credibility and candor.
And they obviously are hoping that Gingrich carries his campaign forward at least through Super Tuesday. "Maybe we should give him some debate lessons," said Woodhouse. "Newt didn't do such a good job in the last couple of events."