UPDATED at 8 p.m. ET
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.--As Newt Gingrich criticized Mitt Romney on Tuesday for hiring many of ex-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's staffers, his campaign announced it had reached a $2 million fundraising goal with the help of an online "money bomb" effort.
Crist was once a popular politician in the Sunshine State, earning endorsements from Gingrich and numerous other Republicans. But he lost his political luster after deciding to run as an independent in the 2010 general election for the U.S. Senate, only to lose to Republican Marco Rubio, now a darling of the right.
"We discovered last night that Mitt Romney has picked up Charlie Crist's campaign team," Gingrich told the crowd at the Tick Tock Restaurant to a smattering of boos. "I thought that tells you everything you need to know about this primary."
At a campaign event, Romney had a sharp rejoinder for his rival, pointing out that Gingrich's entire campaign staff quit over the summer after the candidate and his wife, Callista, decided to take a long vacation in Greece. "Maybe because he lost his whole staff, he's consumed with other people's staff," Romney said. "I don't think this is about staff, I think this is about the candidate."
Romney's campaign also issued a statement from Albert Martinez, who served as a senior advisor to Rubio's Senate bid. Martinez called Gingrich's comments "absurd."
"Mitt Romney endorsed Marco Rubio before Newt Gingrich did, and campaigned aggressively to make sure Marco Rubio defeated Charlie Crist," Martinez said. "Besides, no one cares about past elections, they care about this one and defeating Barack Obama and restoring America. Floridians know Mitt Romney is the only conservative who can beat Barack Obama."
Gingrich also took a swipe at Romney's newly hired debate coach, Brett O'Donnell, who had previously worked with Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota when she was a GOP presidential candidate. The former House speaker described O'Donnell as someone "whose specialty is to say as many untruths as fast as you can," as he continued to portray Romney as using inaccurate smears.
The $2 million that Gingrich raised--$1.7 million of it online--since the South Carolina primary was more than twice what he raised in the entire third quarter of 2011. Along with a $5 million donation to his super PAC from supporter Miriam Adelson, it gives him the ability to compete in a state as large, and with as many media markets, as Florida.
On Tuesday, the campaign began airing "The Moment," a 30-second television spot that includes footage of Gingrich's recent debate performances, including an incident when he aggressively challenged moderator Juan Williams.
Sarah Boxer contributed to this report.