Friday, October 31st, 2014

PolitiFact's guide to the Florida GOP primary

Newt Gingrich at the River of Tampa Bay church in Brandon. (Tampa Bay Times photo by Stephen J. Coddington)
Newt Gingrich at the River of Tampa Bay church in Brandon. (Tampa Bay Times photo by Stephen J. Coddington)

Florida’s prominent spot in the primary calendar means voters have been socked with political messaging in the nine days the Republican candidates for president have been in the state.

The campaigns have aired their own ads, as you would expect, but there’s also been a barrage of ads from super PACs, the political action committees that allow corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to funnel millions into the political process.

Meanwhile, televised debates have given candidates high-profile venues to level their best attack lines in person. Florida witnessed two debates last week, one in Tampa and one in Jacksonville; each had plenty of zingers.

Here, then, are fact-checks of some of the prominent attack lines of the Florida primary.

Attack of the super PAC

Restore Our Future, a super PAC that supports former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, attacked former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich for having "more baggage than the airlines." Gingrich "co-sponsored a bill with Nancy Pelosi that would have given $60 million a year to a U.N. program supporting China’s brutal one-child policy," the ad said.

We found the ad distorted a 1989 bill that addressed global warming. That bill specifically said that it opposed forced sterilizations or coercive birth control measures. Gingrich and Pelosi were co-sponsors, but so were 142 other House members. We rated the ad’s flimsy but inflammatory charge Pants on Fire.

Meanwhile, the pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning our Future attacked Romney for having the same health care plan as President Barack Obama. "Romneycare sent costs spiraling out of control" in Massachusetts, the ad said, "hiking premiums, squeezing household budgets." We found that Romney’s health plan resulted in new spending to cover the uninsured, but health costs for households didn’t go up any more than they did in the rest of the country. We rated the ad’s charge False.

The public workers’ union AFSCME attacked Romney for having connections to Medicare fraud.   "While Romney was a director of the Damon Corporation, the company was defrauding Medicare of millions," the ad said. Back in the early 1990s, Romney was a director for a company that overbilled Medicare. It’s not clear that Romney knew about the overbilling until after the federal authorities put a stop to it. We rated the ad’s claim Mostly True.

The pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future attacked Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, for voting "to let convicted felons vote." Santorum did support a measure to let felons vote, but only after they had served their sentences and successfully completed probation. The ad showed a prisoner in an orange jump suit wearing an "I voted" sticker, so we rated its claim Half True.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul has not been airing TV advertisements in Florida and has not been campaigning here.

The debate in Tampa

Gingrich had strong debate performances in South Carolina, but was attacked again and again during the Florida debates.

Romney said Gingrich worked for Freddie Mac, the mortgage giant that backs home loans, peddling influence after his time as speaker. Gingrich’s contract was with "the lobbyists at Freddie Mac," Romney said. We looked at the contract the Gingrich campaign released and concluded Romney’s characterization was accurate. We rated his statement True.

Romney also said that Gingrich’s past positions were not fully conservative: "When I was fighting against cap and trade, the speaker was sitting down with Nancy Pelosi on a sofa encouraging it." Romney is right that Gingrich once supported cap and trade and appeared in an ad with Pelosi about global warming. But Romney once supported cap and trade himself. We rated Romney’s selective history Half True.

Santorum, meanwhile, said Gingrich supported requirements that people have health insurance, a feature of both the national and the Massachusetts health care laws. "Speaker Gingrich for 20 years supported a federal individual mandate" for health insurance, Santorum said. We looked into the record, and found that Gingrich did support the mandate for much of that time, so we rated Santorum’s statement Mostly True.

The "language of the ghetto"

Some of the harshest attacks of the contest have come in Spanish-language ads. Gingrich aired an ad that called Romney "anti-immigrant," which prompted Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Miami, to publicly criticize the ad. (Rubio has not endorsed.) Gingrich then pulled the ad. Our research showed Gingrich favors letting immigrants with long-term ties to the United States stay in the country, while Romney does not.

Romney, meanwhile, aired an ad that said Gingrich called Spanish "the language of the ghetto."
Gingrich said in 2007 that a language other than English is the "language of living in a ghetto." He didn’t specifically say Spanish, but most people assumed that’s what he meant. Gingrich recorded a web video in Spanish a few days later saying he could have worded his comments better. We rated Romney’s attack Mostly True.