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President Obama, winner of Florida debate?

January 26, 2012 |  8:06 pm

Romeny-Gingrich-Florida-Debate
You can say one thing about the Republican candidates for president: They’ve been debating each other for so long that they can now swap stinging personal attacks without getting visibly angry.

Mitt Romney was on the offensive in Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday evening. He needed only a little prompting to accuse Newt Gingrich of shilling for Freddie Mac, one of the government-backed mortgage firms that conservatives loathe, and of being soft on illegal immigration. “Our problem is not 11 million grandmothers,” Romney said, responding to Gingrich’s reluctance to deport foreign-born grandparents.

Gingrich seemed a little hesitant to climb into the ring. Asked about his statement earlier this week that Romney “lives in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island bank accounts,” the former House speaker said the charge didn’t merit repeating in the solemn dignity of a CNN debate.

That gave Romney an opening. “Wouldn’t it be nice if people didn’t make accusations someplace else that they weren’t willing to defend here?” he asked. OK, Gingrich replied, have it your way. “I don’t know of any American president who had a Swiss bank account,” he said.

The winner? There wasn’t one -- not onstage, at least. Rick Santorum turned in a good performance, criticizing both Romney and Gingrich for their past support of government-mandated health insurance, but he’s running a very distant third in Florida. Ron Paul slammed both front-runners, too, but he’s running fourth. The polls in Florida show Romney and Gingrich neck and neck. If anyone won Thursday evening, it may have been Barack Obama.

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--Doyle McManus

Photo: Newt Gingrich, left, and Mitt Romney participate in the Florida Republican Presidential debate Jan. 26 at the University of North Florida. Credit: Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty Images

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