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Mitt Romney worked hard to blunt Gingrich’s momentum from his victory in South Carolina. Two polls now have Gingrich leading Romney by 8 and 9 points in Florida, which holds its primary on January 31. He began the debate by ticking off a series of criticisms of Gingrich, saying he had to “resign in disgrace” as speaker, then became an “influence peddler,” sided with Nancy Pelosi on cap-and-trade and opposed Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan. Gingrich said that he would not “waste time” on Romney’s “misinformation” but accused him of stating four falsehoods. He then brought up past statements by John McCain and Mike Huckabee stating that Romney “can’t tell the truth.”
Romney did not back down and brought up the money Gingrich made working with Freddie Mac, the ethics investigation of him when he was speaker and how he lost support from his colleagues during his tenure. Gingrich said that Romney is a “terrible historian” and defended his record as Speaker. He said that he was cleared of all ethics charges except for one, which he dismissed as being irrelevant. He said the charges were brought by Democrats seeking to undermine him.
Ron Paul’s only direct criticism of a rival during the debate was of Gingrich. He said that his time as speaker was “chaotic.” Gingrich appealed to Ron Paul’s supporters at least three times, praising his opponent’s stances on the Federal Reserve, gold-backed currency and inflation.
Rick Santorum questioned the commitment of Romney and Gingrich to capitalism for supporting the bailouts. He saved his major attacks until the end of the debate, when he said that Romney was the first governor to institute cap-and-trade and that his health care plan was the basis for ObamaCare. Santorum said that Gingrich supported a federal individual health care mandate for 20 years and cap-and-trade. “They rejected conservatism when it was hard to stand,” Santorum said.
The general consensus of political observers is that the debate will not alter the polls much. Nate Silver tweeted that it was a “low-impact debate,” possibly because of NBC’s instructions to the audience to restrain their emotion. Larry Sabato tweeted that there is “no way the debate changed the current trajectory in Florida.”
Silver felt that Santorum won the debate, giving him a B. He gave Romney a B-, Gingrich a C+ and Paul a C. On the Romney-Gingrich battle, Silver said, “I’m not sure Romney won that exchange but Gingrich certainly lost it.” Sabato gave Romney a slight victory with a B+, Gingrich a B, Santorum a B- and Paul with a C.
If it is true that the poll standings in Florida won’t be affected by this debate, then expect an even fierier show on Thursday, when the candidates will debate for the last time before the primary.
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