The four remaining GOP candidates reconvened in Tampa, Florida, on Monday evening for the first of two debates focused on the Florida primary. Monday night’s debate was sponsored by NBC News, The Tampa Bay Times, the National Journal and the Florida Council of 100. The debate was held at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Original Air Time: Monday, January 23rd at 9pm ET, 8pm CT and 9pm PT on NBC
Participants: Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, Paul
Here is the entire 97 minute video direct from NBC News:
Report from USAToday:
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, his one-time lead among GOP voters in Florida and nationwide evaporating, hammered Newt Gingrich as an influence peddler and disgraced politician in a debate Monday marked by the most heated and personal exchanges of the campaign to date.
At one point, Gingrich, who has been the master of the season’s 18 debates, briefly fell in a frustrated silence as he responded to Romney’s rapid-fire attacks for saying he was hired by mortgage giant Freddie Mac as “a historian” and for advocating health care policies while being paid by health care companies.
“You’ve been walking around this state saying things that are untrue,” an irate Gingrich replied, saying he had advocated policy positions as a concerned citizen, not because of consulting contracts. That isn’t lobbying, he said.
The two men faced each other in a forum at the University of South Florida, eight days before the state’s crucial primary. At stake is not only Florida’s 50 convention delegates — the biggest prize to date — but also a sense of momentum and command in the most tumultuous Republican nomination battle of modern times.
“The race continues with great doubts about the two leading Republican candidates,” political scientist Merle Black of Emory University said before the debate. “Republicans haven’t come close to closure.”
Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum also participated in the debate, hosted by NBC News, National Journal and the Tampa Bay Times. Near the end, Santorum made an impassioned plea for his credentials as a consistent conservative. On issues such as health care, he said of Romney and Gingrich, “When push came to shove, they got pushed.”
But the focus in Florida and the spotlight on stage were on the two men battling for the front-runner’s mantle.
Unfortunately in this debate we saw another example of Rick Santorum and Ron Paul getting only a fraction of the time devoted to Gingrich and Romney. While it may be the case that polls indicate Santorum and Paul aren’t likely to win Florida, the nomination process is far from over and surely they should have been given more time.
From the onset, the tone was contentious for the first 45 minutes as moderator Brian Williams seemed to take a hands-off approach letting Romney and Gingrich take their shots at each other. I don’t know if we learned anything we didn’t already know. Overall a seemingly mild debate compared to previous engagements but educational in the same.