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In Broward, Newt Gingrich focuses on Barack Obama, fends off Freddie Mac heckler

Newt Gingrich spoke today in the parking lot in front of Wings Plus in Coral Springs, a popular hot spot for Republican candidates visiting West Broward.

He was introduced by a local tea party activist, Karen Hoffman, and when Gingrich spoke he said that the tea party would make "a decisive difference" in the fall election. A heckler repeatedly tried to throw Gingrich off course, shouting at him, "Do you work for the people or Freddie Mac?" Gingrich replied, "I work for the people."

Gingrich fired up the crowd of several hundred Republicans by asking, "How many of you agree that America is largely on the wrong track? ... Four more years of Barack Obama will be a disaster."

Gingrich vowed to hold several debates with Obama and said, "to defeat Obama we need somebody who is conservative and can stand up to him in a debate." He spent more time criticizing Obama than Romney, just noting Romney has more campaign money than he does.

Gingrich emphasized his past experience as speaker of the House, where he said he worked to produce millions of new jobs and enact welfare reform that he said sent two out of three people out of work to school."

Then, Gingrich repeated the line that played so well for him in South Carolina: "We know President Obama is the best food-stamp president in American history."

With Florida's primary just days away, some Republicans at Gingrich's event remained undecided.

Gary Messinger, a tennis court contractor from Coral Springs, said he was leaning toward Gingrich.

"I think he is intelligent. He can stand toe-to-toe with anyone in the world and not flinch and beat Obama in the debates," Messinger said.

Richard Huddleston, a Tamarac resident and retired driver trainer for Waste Management, wasn't impressed by any GOP candidate.

"I think they are all full of baloney," Huddleston said. "They are worried about fighting amongst each other. They need to attack Obama and tell us how they would be the best president."

George Mihelich, a 38-year-old car sales manager from Parkland, favored Gingrich.

"He can work with the Democrats and balance the budget," he said. "He has proven he can work with Democrats from his time as Speaker in the house. ... He's a consensus builder."

But David Brundage, a 70-year-old Cooper City resident, said he preferred Romney who he saw as the candidate with business and management skills who could appeal more to moderates and independents.

"He’s more to the middle where we need. As a lifelong Republican I don't want to lose this election to somebody who is too far to the right," said Brundage, a retired food production manager for Jackson Memorial Hospital. "As a party, particularly in Broward, we will not win the election unless we have somebody who can draw independent voters." 

Some voters weren't bothered by the news reports about Gingrich's marriages.

"His knowledge is unbelievable," said Ira Josephson, a 58-year-old Coral Springs resident and eyeware manufacturer. "I don't care about his past. We all have skeletons."

--AMY SHERMAN

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