11:15 -- Thirty minutes after the debate ends, Gingrich tweets: "Since 1974 I've fought for the conservative cause. I'll shake up DC with big solutions for big challenges."
10:42 -- Brian Williams brings debate to a close by thanking everyone and saying, "We're obligated at this time to say ... 'Go Bulls'." in acknowledgement of the University of South Florida mascot.
10:41 -- Romney is asked since he wants to make America great again, when was America last great? His answer: "America still is great, but we still have people suffering. we have people unemployed when they shouldn't be ... we have income that has declined 10 percent in the past four years."
10:40 -- Gingrich: "I don't ask people to be for me; I ask people to be with me."
10:37 -- Romney reacts to being called "insufficiently conservative." His answer: "I will repeal Obamacare and return to the states the authority and the right to craft their own health care."
10:35 -- Washington Post reports that, unlike the last raucous Republican debates, this one is notable for the lack of audience participation. Moderator Brian Williams asked the crowd not to applaud in his introductory remarks.
10:32 -- Santorum pointing out where Gingrich and Romney past actions clash with his positions. "There is no difference between President Obama and these two gentlemen."
Paul is asked if they're not "sufficiently conservative for you." His response: You need to discuss what the role of government should be. "If you're conservative, you want small government across the board. We need to decide what limited government means."
10:25 -- Gingrich says Bush tax cuts, in light of 9/11, kept us "from going into a much greater slump."
10:20 -- In response to question, Romney says space "should be a priority. It certainly isn't a priority with this president." Bring gov't, business, university research together "to have a mission and once again excite our young people about the promise of space." Adds that it also will benefit business.
Gingrich says "I would like to see vastly more of the money spent to encourage the private sector" to explore space. Says aviation breathroughs in 20th century came from people trying to win prizes. "Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic to win a $25,000 prize."
10:18 -- Gingrich is asked how Schiavo case squares with Constitution's separation of powers. Says comatose patient has a right to judicial review. Says if it's your case, than you have right. "We go to extradorinary lengths ... for people on murderer's row," Gingrich says. It's appropriate, he adds, that courts should be involved in cases where there are questions about a terminally ill person's wishes.
Paul says "it's better to have a living will. I don't like going up the ladder to federal courts and the congress, I'd like to see the decision made at the state or local level." Says should defer to family.
10:17 -- About Terri Schiavo, the Tampa-area woman whose coma was the center of a family battle, Santorum says he agreed to advocate for the parents, who wanted another set of eyes on the case. Says he was advocating for the parents who had lived in Pennsylvania.
10:15: Romney: "If people can't find work here, they'll self-deport to a place where they can find work." Santorum asked if self-deportation is a valid option. "Well, it's happening now."
10:13 -- Gingrich and Romney support the idea of making citizenship available to illegal immigrants who serve in the U.S. military. They do not support offering the DREAM Act to those who are college students, National Public Radio blog reports. Gingrich and Romney would sign the DREAM act if it involved military service.
10:10 -- debate moves to national language. Paul points out that while we should have a national language, a state like Florida should be able to allow other languages.
10:05 -- Santorum asked about off-shore drilling. Will another big spill hurt Florida's tourism. "What will hurt Florida's tourism is a continuing bad economy."
10:01 -- Brian Williams is joined by two other journalists, who take turns asking questions.
10 p.m. -- Santorum asked about Iran nuclear program; where do you limit an effort to take out the program? "What happens when Iran gets a nuclear weapon and the world changes. ... Obama's Iran policy has been a collosal failure." Lists Iranian transgressions, such as supplying IEDs, attacking ships and embassies, "a long list of attacks, war-like behavior, on the part of this regime." Says it "would be reckless not to do something to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon."
9:55 -- Brian Williams: "Any appetite on this stage to discuss negotiations with Taliban?" Ron Paul asks to speak. Compares blockading Hormuz to an Iranina blockade of the Gulf of Mexico -- it would be an act of war. Says people are not ready for war and "they certainly don't want a hot war in Iran. The most foolish thing in the world would be to create a hot war in Iran."
9:53 -- Gingrich says "Dictatorships respond to strength; they do not respond to weakness." Obama's decision to cancel U.S.-Israeli naval exercises was wrong.
9:52 -- Asked about U.S.-Iran, Paul says the U.S. has “already committed” an act of war against Iran “by blockading the country.” U.S. sanctions against Iran involve banning from U.S. financial markets any foreign financial institution that does business with Iran’s central bank – a move intended to block the country from processing oil revenue, Wall Street Journal blog reports. “Can you imagine what we would do if someone blockaded the Gulf of Mexico?” he asks.Romney calls for aircraft carrier task force in Persian Gulf and in the Med.
9:51 -- Santorum supports U.S.-Cuba sanctions. "It should continue until the Castros are dead" But once that happens, we should engage Cubans.
Gingrich vows that as president he will "overthrow the regime" of Fidel Castro. Responding to a question by Brian Williams during the NBC debate about U.S. policy toward Cuba, Gingrich said he would press for a "Cuban spring," much like the Arab spring sweeping the Mideast.
"We will not tolerate four more years of this [Castro] regime," Gingrich said.
Fidel Castro has been in power for more than 50 years and Cuba remains one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
Gingrich said he would accomplish the goal of ousting Castro by "using every asset" the U.S. government has, including supporting a popular uprising and encouraging Cuban youth to take to the streets.
9:50 -- They're asked about Cuba-America relations. Gingrich says Paul says "the cold war's over. We propped up Castro for 40-some years." Cubans would have more freedom if U.S. would talk to Cuban people.
9:45 -- Question: Do we help homeowners. Romney: Yes. Gingrich: Repeal Dodd-Frank to improve housing market. Romney: Housing markets not properly regulated. "You need to have regulation that's up to date."
9:40 -- Santorum and Paul finally get to answer a question. Paul says, "The whole bubble was easily seen, the consequences were anticipated" about housing bust. "Here we have a bunch of guys who go into a room and create interest rates." Banks bad debt should have been wiped off the books and the firms should have gone bankrupt.
Santorum says One way to give homeowners who are "underwater" on their mortgages, Santorum suggests, would be to allow them to "deduct losses from the sale of their homes" from income taxes.
9:35: Gingrich says he always favored a public Medicare program. Says he's proud he supported Medicare Part D. Says it's his right to advocate for Medicare reform.
9:35 -- Gingrich: "What was the gross revenue of Bain while you were working there?" Romney: "Very substantial. But we're not talking about Bain, we're talking about Freddie Mac."
9:32 -- Romney says Gingrich was hired by the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac. Says he could have spoken out aggressively while Freddie Mac was contributing to the housing bubble. Gingrich says he made $35K a year "to offer strategic advice."
9:30 -- Gingrich says If you read the Freddie Mac contract, it very clearly states that it was for consulting work. "I have never done any lobbying."
9:30 p.m. -- Santorum "My question is ... if you believe in capitalism that much, why did you support the bailout of Wall Street. ... We should have allowed those financial institutions to go through the bankruptcy process." Companies that can't survive the process will fail.
9:25 -- Ron Paul has made only one comment, gotten one question by this point.
9:25 -- Gingrich proposes alternative flat tax on Hong Kong model, at 15 percent. "I propose the Mitt Romney flat tax. I want to bring everyone down to his rate, not increase his taxes." No. 1 goal is "create maximum number of jobs to get people back to work."
Romney says he will release two years of taxes, not 12 years like his father did.
9:23: Romney: "I don't think Americans want someone as president who pays more taxes than they owe."
9:22 -- Romney asked about tax returns, "what's in there that will get people talking?" Romney: "No surprises are in there." "The real questino isn't my taxes, but the taxes on the American people." Would eliminate taxes on interest, dividends, cap gains.
9:20 -- Ron Paul, asked about his path and his third-party plan: "You talk about electability, we take on the first three states and get the vote of everybody 30 and under." Says he has "no plans, no intention" to run as third-party candidate.
9:18 -- "There's one thing worse than losing an election and that's not standing for the principles you hold," Santorum says.
9:15: Santorum asked about his path to the top: "We're looking at this race as trying to paint a positive vision for our country." GOP needs to make Obama the issue in the race. How did he win Penna. Senate seat: "I had plans out there that included everybody." "It was a meltdown year," he said about losing Senate seat in 2006.
9:13: Gingrich: "He may have been a good financier but he's a terrible historian." Democrats filed ethics charges "because we had just taken over the House after 40 years and they were very bitter."
9:12: Romney: "I learned a lot from that race in South Carolina ... I would like to not have the kind of attacks that came at me. ... but I'm going to point out things people need to know." Repeats Freddie Mac.
9:10: Romney: "This is the first time in American history that a Speaker of the House has resigned," about Gingrich's four years as House speaker. He continued: "We just learned today that his contract from Freddie Mac was provided by the lobbyist for Freddie Mac."
9:10 -- Romney came out swinging hard, right at Gingrich's jaw. In response to his first question, Mr. Romney used the word "disgrace" twice in reference to Mr. Gingrich and called him an "influence peddler."
Gingrich's response: "He said at least four things that are false." He promises to address that and other "inaccuracies" on his website tomorrow.
Seven minutes into the debate, Santorum and Paul haven't even had a question lobbed their way yet.
9:05 -- On electability, Gingrich recalls Reagan in 1980, says "I would suggest that a solid conservative who believes in economic growth and lower taxation ... may make the Washington establishment uncomfortable" but be what Americans want.
9 p.m. -- Brian Williams of NBC News is introducing the debate and four candidates.
8:30 -- Politico
reports that key debate moments have not been Mitt Romney’s calling card. He’s been brittle at the first sign of real fire. He’s been tongue-tied on even the most predictable questions, like his tax returns and his job-creation record at Bain Capital. And he’s been far less effective at this than might be expected for someone running for president full-time since about 2006.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Newmax will be live blogging the NBC GOP Debate, co-sponsored by NBC News, the Tampa Bay Times, The National Journal and the Florida Council of 100, Monday night beginning at 9 p.m. in this space.
TAMPA, Fla. — Rocked in South Carolina over the weekend, an increasingly aggressive Mitt Romney looked to take the fight to Newt Gingrich in a debate Monday night as the combative Republican presidential contest shifted to Florida.
The fireworks began before they walked onto the debate stage for the 9 p.m. event.
Romney began running an ad that said Gingrich "cashed in" with home-loan giant Freddie Mac while Floridians were being crushed in the housing crisis.
Gingrich mocked Romney as someone campaigning on openness "who has released none of his business records."
Gingrich, the former House speaker, has suddenly seized the nomination momentum, following weak finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire with the solid victory over Romney Saturday in South Carolina. And recent Florida polls suggest he may have erased Romney's lead here.
While the fight has largely become a two-man contest, they will share the stage with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
The GOP rivals were clashing at the University of South Florida Monday night and will meet again Thursday night in the run-up to the Florida primary on Tuesday, Jan. 31.
Before the Tampa debate started, Romney went after Gingrich in person and on the Florida airwaves.
At a campaign stop, Romney likened Gingrich to a pinball machine and suggested the former House speaker engaged in "potentially wrongful activity" in his consulting work over the past decade.
Romney then released his first negative ad of the campaign.
"While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in," the TV ad says, noting that the former speaker made more than $1.6 million working for Freddie Mac. "Gingrich resigned from Congress in disgrace and then cashed in as a D.C. insider."
Gingrich never registered as a lobbyist, but said he was a consultant for Freddie Mac, the federally backed mortgage company that played a significant role in the housing crisis.
It remains to be seen if Romney can effectively use his newly aggressive stance on the debate stage, a forum in which Gingrich has excelled so far. Underfunded and overmatched by Romney's massive ground game across the country, Gingrich has relied upon strong debate performances to build support.
It appears Romney has brought in outside help to improve his debate technique.
Veteran debate coach Brett O'Donnell was spotted at a Romney campaign stop Monday. He previously advised President George W. Bush and GOP nominee John McCain and was a senior adviser and speech writer for Michele Bachmann's abbreviated campaign.
Gingrich, meanwhile, is showing no signs of backing down.
During an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America," he referred to Romney as "somebody who has released none of his business records, who has decided to make a stand on transparency without being transparent." After initially balking, Romney is set to release personal tax records Tuesday.
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