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Romney Goes On The Attack Against Gingrich In Florida GOP Debate

Ryan Faughnder |
January 23, 2012 | 4:37 p.m. PST

Executive Editor

So much for focusing attacks on Barack Obama. At the Republican debate in Tampa, Fl., Monday night, the two front-runners immediately began bashing each other, with former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts digging into Newt Gingrich over his record as Speaker of the House and his years as an “influence-peddler” – Romney’s synonym for “K Street lobbyist” – in Washington.

This was after Gingrich answered a question about electability in the face of his long history of making inflammatory statements and displaying a leadership style his opponents have assessed as erratic and undisciplined.

“They’re not sending someone to Washington to manage the decay,” Gingrich said. “Sometimes you have to be controversial.”

Gingrich tried to deflect Romney’s attacks.

“I’m not going to spend time chasing Mitt Romney’s misinformation,” he said. This was after he again touted his record as Speaker by taking credit for four balanced budgets being passed in a row. As fact-checking group Politifact has surmised, the federal budget was balanced twice under Gingrich’s watch, but the second two times were after he left.

Romney continued to go after Gingrich’s record as Speaker, referencing the fact that Gingrich was fined $300,000 for ethics violations during his tenure, in an attempt to paint Gingrich as too undisciplined to lead the country.

“Eighty-eight percent of Republicans voted to reprimand him, and he did resign in disgrace,” Romney said.

The verbal firepower from Romney reflected the tensions in the Republican Party as the zero hour draws near for the GOP to choose a candidate to take on President Barack Obama in the November general election. The exchanges showed the vulnerable Romney trying to fend off a surging Gingrich who is currently ahead by almost 10 percent in Florida polls ahead of the Jan. 31 primary election in that state.

The race for the GOP nomination had previously been Romney’s to lose after an easy victory in the New Hampshire primary following a close then-win in the Iowa caucuses. South Carolina changed all that. Gingrich won Saturday’s South Carolina primary handily with about 40 percent of the vote. The former speaker benefitted from a series of strong debate performances characterized by vicious attacks on the media and his Republican opponents. Adding insult to injury, the certified results showed that former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was the true victor in Iowa. This week, the Republican race is as wide-open as ever.

Questions over Romney’s wealth and taxes have burned him in recent weeks. He told reporters last week that his effective tax rate is around 15 percent, because most of his income comes from his capital investments. He also referred to his public speaking income as “not very much,” when his disclosure documents revealed that it totaled about $374,000 from Feb. 2010 to Feb. 2011.

Asked about his tax returns, a small number of which he says he’ll release Tuesday, he assured people that there would be no surprises.

“The real question is not my taxes, but the taxes of the American people… I’ve paid all the taxes that were legally required.”

Gingrich did not attack Romney on that point. “I’d like to bring everyone down to Mitt’s rate, not bring his rate up.”

His tax plan calls for no taxes on capital gains.

“Under that tax plan, I would’ve paid no taxes over the last two years,” Romney said.

Romney has mounted attacks on Gingrich over his involvement with mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Romney has held that Gingrich’s position with the company, which played a substantial role in the financial crisis that plunged the country into recession, constitutes lobbying on behalf of the institution. Gingrich has denied those charges, painting himself as an “historian” for the company.

Romney continued that line of attack Monday night.

"They don't pay people $25,000 a month to be historians," Romney said.

Gingrich released his contract with the mortgage firm earlier Monday, which indicated that he was paid $300,000 for unspecified consulting work.

“The fact is, I offered strategic advice using my knowledge of history,” Gingrich said during the debate.

He countered Romney’s jabs by asking him what Romney’s private equity firm Bain Capital made in net revenue.

Romney didn’t answer the question.

“Very substantial, but I think it’s irrelevant given you worked for Freddie Mac," he said. This elicited laughs from the audience.

Gingrich was also on the defensive for his lobbying for Medicare Part D during the George W. Bush years.

Gingrich has long played to his base in the debates -- angry conservative voters -- but he took a more laid back approach to fray. Self-described Tea-Party sympathizers have favored Gingrich over the polished, businesslike Romney, who tends to come off stiff in public appearances.

Romney has relied on the electability angle throughout most of the campaign and has generally backed off attacks. That strategy appears to have not worked in the past week.

Asked by Brian Williams about the change in tactics, Romney said as much. "I'm not going to sit back day in and day out and not return fire."

 

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