Romney pressures Gingrich at Florida debate

2012-01-27 08:26

Jacksonville – Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney forced rival Newt Gingrich into a defensive crouch over immigration, finances and even a moon colony.

This was during a contentious debate that sets the stage for Florida’s primary in five days.

The neck-and-neck nature of the race for Florida and its crucial implications for the Republican presidential nomination added a level of tension in the debate arena at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville as the candidates sparred repeatedly.

Romney, stung at his loss in the South Carolina primary last Saturday to Gingrich, went after the former speaker of the US House of Representatives from the start. And the brawling continued throughout the 90-minute CNN-sponsored debate.

Gingrich, who has displayed a mastery of debating skills during previous debates that helped revive his campaign, was frequently caught flat-footed in the face of Romney’s punches.

The two men are running close in polls ahead of next Tuesday’s primary vote in Florida, the biggest state so far in the early voting for the Republican nomination to face President Barack Obama in November.

Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul piled on Gingrich for telling laid-off space workers near Cape Canaveral on Wednesday that if elected president next November he would seek to build a permanent colony on the lunar surface.

Romney said the money could be better spent elsewhere and that Gingrich’s proposal was a big idea but not a good one.

And Paul, a Texas congressman and libertarian, got off the zinger of the night.

“I don’t think we should go to the moon,” said Paul. “I think maybe we should send some politicians up there.”

Bickering erupted from the first question over illegal immigration and intensified over Romney’s wealth and Gingrich’s past work for the troubled mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, took umbrage at Gingrich’s description of him as “anti-immigrant”, in dismissing as a fantasy Romney’s belief that illegal immigrants could be induced to “self-deport”.

“That’s inexcusable,” Romney said, turning to Gingrich. “I’m not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico.

The idea that I’m anti-immigrant is repulsive. Don’t use a term like that.”

Gingrich, who has offered a softer version of immigration policy than most Republican conservatives, insisted the US cannot rationally deport millions of people and that some who’ve lived here for decades should be allowed to stay.

But he added some confusion to his position by saying he would support some version of “self-deportation”.

Romney raised Gingrich’s work for Freddie Mac as a sign that his rival is an influence peddler, a “horn tooter” for Freddie Mac.

Gingrich fought back that Romney has investments in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, drawing attention to Romney’s vast wealth.

“Romney made $1 million (about R8 million) on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,” Gingrich said.

Romney defended himself, saying he was unaware of his investments because his money is in a blind trust. 

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