Romney Gets Aggressive In Final Florida Debate

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- An aggressive Mitt Romney repeatedly challenged Republican rival Newt Gingrich in a fast-paced campaign debate Thursday night just before a Florida primary that could be pivotal in the GOP presidential race. He rebuffed criticism of his own stance on immigration and ridiculed the former House speaker's call to build costly projects in key primary states and to colonize the moon.

Days before the primary election in Florida, a state with a large number of immigrants, Romney vehemently denied Gingrich's accusation that he is more anti-immigrant than any other candidate. And, as charges flew back and forth, Gingrich in return rebutted any suggestion that he wasn't the man to rein in federal spending.

"You don't just have to be cheap everywhere. You can actually have priorities to get things done," Gingrich declared, saying that as speaker of the House he had helped balance the budget while doubling spending on the National Institutes of health.

The debate was the 19th since the race for the Republican nomination began last year, and the second in four days in the run-up to next Tuesday's Florida primary. Opinion polls make the race a close one - slight advantage Romney - with two other contenders, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Texas Rep. Ron Paul far behind.

Gingrich's upset victory in the South Carolina primary last week upended the race for the nomination to oppose Democratic President Barack Obama in the fall, and Romney in particular can ill-afford a defeat on Tuesday.

While the clashes between Gingrich and Romney dominated the debate, Santorum drew applause from the audience when he called on the two front-runners to stop attacking one another and "focus on the issues."

"Can we set aside that Newt was a member of Congress ... and that Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy?" he said in a tone of exasperation.

There were some moments of levity, including when Paul, 76, was asked whether he would be willing to release his medical records. He said he was, then challenged the other three men on the debate stage to a 25-mile bike race.

He got no takers.

In the days since Romney's loss in South Carolina, he has tried to seize the initiative, playing the aggressor in the Tampa debate and assailing Gingrich in campaign speeches and a TV commercial.

An outside group formed to support Romney has spent more than his own campaign's millions on ads, some of them designed to stop Gingrich's campaign momentum before it is too late to deny him the nomination.

With polls suggesting his South Carolina surge is stalling, Gingrich unleashed a particularly strong attack earlier in the day, much as he lashed out in Iowa when he rose in the polls, only to be knocked back by an onslaught of ads he was unable to counter effectively.

Thursday night's first clash occurred moments after the debate opened, when Gingrich responded to a question by saying Romney was the most anti-immigrant of all four contenders on stage. "That's simply inexcusable," the former Massachusetts governor responded.

"Mr. Speaker, I'm not anti-immigrant, my father was born in Mexico," Romney declared. "I'm not anti-immigrant."

At the same time, Romney noted that Gingrich's campaign had been pressured to stop running a radio ad that called Romney anti-immigrant after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called on Gingrich to do so.

He called on Gingrich to apologize for the commercial, but got no commitment.

About an hour later, Romney pounced when the topic turned to Gingrich's proposal for an permanent American colony on the moon - an issue of particular interest to engineers and others who live on Florida's famed Space Coast.

A career businessman before he became a politician, Romney said: "If I had a business executive come to me and say I want to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, `You're fired.'"

The audience erupted in cheers, but Romney wasn't finished.

He said the former speaker had called for construction of a new Interstate highway in South Carolina, a new VA hospital in northern New Hampshire and widening the port of Jacksonville to accommodate the larger ships that will soon be able to transit the Panama Canal.

"This idea of going state to state and promising people what they want to hear, promising hundreds of billions of dollars to make people happy, that's what got us into trouble in the first place," Romney said.

Gingrich responded that part of campaigning is becoming familiar with local issues, adding, "The port of Jacksonville is going to have to be expanded. I think that's an important thing for a president to know." He went on to refer to completion of an Everglades project that he did not describe, then noted he had worked to expand NIH while he was speaker.

Gingrich raised questions about Romney's wealth and his investments. "I don't know of any American president who's had a Swiss bank account," Gingrich said. Romney replied that his investments were in a blind trust over which he had no control. "There's nothing wrong with that," declared Romney, who has estimated his wealth at as much as $250 million.

Earlier Thursday, it was disclosed that Romney and his wife, Ann Romney, failed to list an unknown amount of investment income from a variety of sources including a Swiss bank account on financial disclosure forms filed last year. His campaign said it was working to correct the omissions.

Gingrich also failed to report income from his 2010 tax return on his financial disclosure. The former Georgia congressman will amend his disclosure to show $252,500 in salary from one of his businesses, spokesman R.C. Hammond said.

Debating in a state with a large and influential Jewish population, Romney and Gingrich vied to stress their support for Israel rather than criticize one another.

And all four men were quick to name prominent officials of Hispanic descent who deserved consideration for the Cabinet. Gingrich trumped the other three, saying, "I've actually thought of Marco Rubio in a slightly more dignified and central role," an evident reference to the vice presidential spot on the ticket.

Immigration was a recurring theme.

Gingrich said Romney was misleading when he ran an ad accusing the former House speaker of once referring to Spanish as "the language of the ghetto." Gingrich claimed he was referring to a multitude of languages, not just Spanish.

Romney initially said, "I doubt it's mine," but moderator Wolf Blitzer read it aloud and pointed out that Romney, at the ad's conclusion, says he approved the message.

As for immigration policy, it was difficult to discern their differences.

Both men said they want to clamp down in illegal immigration, create programs to make sure jobs go only to legal immigrants and deport some of the 11 million men and women in the country unlawfully.

Gingrich has never said how many illegal residents he believes should be deported, preferring to say that the United States is not going to begin rounding up grandmothers and grandfathers who have lived in the United States for years.

Romney agreed that was the case - and Gingrich said that marked a switch in position.

"Our problem is not 11 million grandmothers," Romney said. "Our problem is 11 million people getting jobs that many Americans, legal immigrants would like to have."

Romney and Gingrich also exchanged jabs over investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two mortgage giants that played a role in the national foreclosure crisis that has hit Florida particularly hard.

Gingrich said Romney was making money from investments in funds that were "foreclosing on Floridians."

Romney quickly noted that Gingrich, too, was invested in mutual funds with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He then added that the former House speaker "was a spokesman" for the two. That was a reference to a contract that one of Gingrich's businesses had for consulting services. The firm was paid $300,000 in 2006.

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  • by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 05:12 PM
    Newt and Mitt looked like spoiled children in the debate. Santorum is dangerous. Ron Paul showed he is the man for the job. The others are over there head and just don't understand this is not a game.
  • by Clown fans are gullible on Jan 27, 2012 at 05:04 PM
    Newt go from state to state and promise exactly what that state wants to hear. The Speaker comes here to Florida, wants to spend untold amount of money having a colony on the moon. I know it's very exciting on the Space Coast. In South Carolina, it was a new interstate highway, and dredging the port in Charleston. In New Hampshire, it was burying a power line coming in from Canada and building a new VHA hospital in New Hampshire so that people don't have to go to Boston. Look, this idea of going state to state and promising what people want to hear, promising billions, hundreds of billions of dollars to make people happy, that's what got us into the trouble we're in now. Clowns fans are so gullible.
    • reply
      by Obama Snake Oil Co on Jan 28, 2012 at 01:21 PM in reply to Clown fans are gullible
      Is that Newt or Obama? Reboot your hardrive...your computer must have a libterdialvirus.
      • reply
        by Pull your head out your ascot.s on Jan 28, 2012 at 04:24 PM in reply to Obama Snake Oil Co
        Snake Oil you are so gullible, before you say anything else, check out Damon Corp and Mitt Romneys involvement in Medicare Fraud, he pocketed millions and the company was found GUILTY and fined one million . And YES, Romney WAS INVOLVED.
        • reply
          by Obama Snake Oil co on Jan 29, 2012 at 04:39 AM in reply to Pull your head out your ascot.s
          Just show us the evidence. Give me the facts as I get tired of chasing down libterdial witch hunts to find that it happened after he retired or before he went to work there. I mean, mediamatters is not a news source, its a political slander machine run by Soros. So gulliable? Really?
  • by Gary Location: Winterville on Jan 27, 2012 at 07:27 AM
    I sure hope when this country throws Obama out, housekeeping can get his shoe marks off of our furniture. Such disrespect!
  • by Lavon Location: Goldsboro on Jan 27, 2012 at 07:19 AM
    Nobody but Obama in 2012
    • reply
      by Obama Snake Oil co on Jan 28, 2012 at 01:25 PM in reply to Lavon
      No body? WE know that already, we know we have nobody in DC right now, why do you keep posting you broken 45 record at 33? Well, we hope to have somebody over the next months to actually lead this country instead of that loser in the whitehouse. Do you know how to remove the bumper stickers off a car? I am sure its like your moped. I have one of my neighbors who wants to get rid of the reminants off her bumper due to her shame. Does Dr Gruffs terd polish work or do you need a solvent?
  • by obamanot on Jan 27, 2012 at 06:32 AM
    Romney or even Ron Paul would be a hell of alot better president than the nimrod we got right now but I sure wish they both would pull a perdue.
    • reply
      by YES on Jan 27, 2012 at 07:22 AM in reply to obamanot
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 04:36 PM in reply to obamanot
      Both Ron and Newt need to fly to the moon.
  • by Barlow Location: Winteville on Jan 27, 2012 at 02:51 AM
    NBC/WSJ Poll - "Romney fares best against the president, trailing Obama by six points among registered voters, 49 percent to 43 percent. That’s a four-point improvement for the president from a month ago.Obama, however, beats Gingrich by a whopping 18 points, 55-37 percent, expanding the president’s 11-point lead a month ago." Keep talkin Repugs, keep talkin.
    • reply
      by Blah Blah Blah on Jan 27, 2012 at 04:04 AM in reply to Barlow
      You sure were quiet yesterday when the articles came out about the billions of dollars still owed and not getting repaid from the stimulus fiasco as well as your local hero Bev backing out of the race because she knows she will lose. Well Obama should do the same thing, save himself and his entitlement party the embarrassment and just drop out because he will lose in 2012 even with your liberal spin and NBC inaccurate polling.
      • reply
        by Barlow on Jan 27, 2012 at 04:30 AM in reply to Blah Blah Blah
        There are also billions of dollars not getting repaid from the TARP fiasco. Neither TARP or the stimulus would have been necessary if this country were not run into the ground, and we all know who created the Great Recession and it certainly wasn't "then Senator" Barack Obama. I don't think the American people are going to want the Repugs to finish the job.
        • reply
          by Obama Snake Oil Co on Jan 27, 2012 at 05:16 AM in reply to Barlow
          Obama is already gone Barlow...he is history. In your spin, you totally neglected the facts as usual. Not one single fact to support anything you posted, nadda. Do you really think we do not have the ability to check out the truth? Yet you posted like you are part of something going on, the debates. The party you would not ever consider and spend your efforts spinning libterdial nonsense from mediamatters. You simple don't understand that there are those of us that are educated and recognize it. Apparently, if it sounds good to you, you run with it. Well, Bev is gone, both houses are republican in NC, one house in DC and in 2012, if will be both houses and the president. Sorry to burst your bubble, but you are wasting time. Game over for democrats after the worst demonstation of tax and spend in the history of this nation by the worst president in my lifetime.
        • reply
          by Blah Blah Blah on Jan 27, 2012 at 05:54 AM in reply to Barlow
          You can place blame for a large majority of the recession where that blame lies also Barlow, with Bill Clinton, the originator of the mortgage crisis!! Most of the TARP money was handed out by Obama, therefore that is his baby as well. Lets hear about your good friend Bev, she jumped off a sinking ship, just like the Italian captain, leaving the people to fend for themselves. Obama, as I stated, should do the same thing, he had no clue how to run a country the first time, if (and that is a big IF) he were to win re-relection he would just continue to make things worse. Cry all you want gallup still shows his approval below Carter and Bush, he is ONE AND DONE, LOL!!!
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 04:34 PM in reply to Blah Blah Blah
        Drop out like Perry,Cain,Huntsman,Bachmann,Palin,etc....
    • reply
      by Obama Snake Oil Co on Jan 27, 2012 at 05:20 AM in reply to Barlow
      Ask Jimmy Carter about the NBC/WSJ Polls....The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Thursday shows that 25% of the nation's voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president. Thirty-eight percent (38%) Strongly Disapprove, giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -13
      • reply
        by Barlow on Jan 27, 2012 at 06:58 AM in reply to Obama Snake Oil Co
        Snake, how predictable are you? I knew another poll would drive you out of your whole with your daily Ratspukin poll! LOL. Do you ever, I mean EVER watch anything but Fixed? Its a big world out there, look around.
        • reply
          by Obama Snake Oil Co on Jan 27, 2012 at 09:54 AM in reply to Barlow
          What does Fox have to do with Rasmussen? I went to Rasmussen long before Fox was around. All other sites are unreliable. I don't go there for feel good like you do, I go to see what is really going on. However, in your libterdial world you can go to what makes you feel.....good about yourself.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 05:13 PM in reply to Obama Snake Oil Co
        I think Romney exposed Gingrich for the bully that he is. When confronted by a determined and well-prepared adversary, Gingrich flinched. I don't know for certain. But I'd put my money on Romney!
        • reply
          by ? on Jan 28, 2012 at 02:27 PM in reply to
          Adultering moron, Gingrich, I don't see how right wing extremist bible thumpers can continue to back him.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 04:32 PM in reply to Barlow
      Yea, but how does he rate against the Generic GOP Candidate?
      • reply
        by to anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 08:33 PM in reply to
        Gingrich and Romney are not Generic! They are REAL. One is crazy and on is a liar. Watching the Republicans is like watching the WWF!
  • by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 02:17 AM
    Ron Paul for president!
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 04:48 AM in reply to
      Do some reading. Then you may be saying Santorum for pres.. I you like Paul it wont be the other two but at least read enough to change your opinion.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 05:09 PM in reply to
      3 out of the 4 debaters provided false information in the debate according to Hmmm can you guess who the honest politician is? Ron Paul 2012!!
  • by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 12:18 AM
    Again, the Clown Show continues..........
    • reply
      by lavonanot on Jan 27, 2012 at 05:04 AM in reply to
      Yep,watching obamas clowns resign has been happening for 2 1/2 years now.Perdue(another obama jester)proved that yesterday.
  • by 40some on Jan 26, 2012 at 08:56 PM
    Gingrich was the man that worked with Clinton after the impeachment to get to a balanced budget. Of all things we need, side show aside, we have got to reign in spending and balance the budget.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 02:53 AM in reply to 40some
      Romney and Gingrich are similar in their platform, but Romney is the Republican candidate most able to win in the general election.
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 05:10 PM in reply to
        In my opinion, Ron Paul buried them both. They were like 2 little school girls bickering back and forth up there.
    • reply
      by Barlow on Jan 27, 2012 at 02:57 AM in reply to 40some
      You're paying to much attention to Snoots lies..."Gingrich became speaker of the House in 1995, after Republicans won control of the chamber in the 1994 midterm elections, two years into Clinton’s presidency. In 1993, the Democratic majority in Congress passed – and Clinton signed – a budget bill that raised taxes on the wealthy, cut taxes for small businesses and for the poor, and required that future budgets balance and reduce the deficit. Not a single Republican voted for that bill."
      • reply
        by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 04:46 AM in reply to Barlow
        But he lowered the corporate tax rate. Huge difference from Obama. They also worked to gether on the personal responsibility act which is the only thing keeping Medicaid afloat now. We need both again.
        • reply
          by Barlow on Jan 27, 2012 at 06:02 AM in reply to
          Before they lower the corporate tax rate, they need to close the loop holes and stop the subsidies. Some companies like GE don't pay any taxes because of loop holes and we actually GIVE Exxon billions in our tax dollars through subsidies. As soon as you can get the Repug House to agree we can get it done, but quess what their answer has been so far? You're right! NO!
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 05:15 PM in reply to
          Neither newt or Ronmey will ever be president, bet on it in Vegas and take your money to the bank.
        • reply
          by To anoymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 08:35 PM in reply to
          Keep posting and showing what you don't know. Taxes are lower than they have been since Eisenhower! The "increases" Obama is talking about would only take them back to the Clinton rates!
        • reply
          by Obama Snake Oil co on Jan 28, 2012 at 03:46 PM in reply to
          Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 08:15 PM, you sir, are an idiot. Clinton reduced capital gains taxes from 30% to 15% like they are today. Don't post again, lies are not needed.
      • reply
        by Obama Snake Oil co on Jan 27, 2012 at 08:01 AM in reply to Barlow
        Ge doesn't pay taxes but are a huge supporter of Obama...not like there is any conflict there mind you...Exxon gets billions to put ethanol in gasoline as the government EPA forces them to do that. Its costs more so the subsidy is so we don't pay 5 dollars a gallon. Get with it Barlow, there is still hope for you to figure what is going on right under your nose.
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Jan 27, 2012 at 05:10 PM in reply to Obama Snake Oil co
          We need to see a debate between Ron Paul and which ever candidate the establishment decides to allow to move forward. I doubt they will do that because they know that side by side, no distractions, Ron Paul will expose each of them for the frauds, liars, thieves and idiot puppets they really are.

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