Mitt, Newt Come Out Swinging
They jab over Freddie Mac 'lobbying,' taxes
By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser User
Posted Jan 23, 2012 8:38 PM CST
Updated Jan 23, 2012 9:39 PM CST
Republican presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul line up for the Republican Presidential Debate at the University of South Florida in Tampa.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich came out throwing verbal punches—at each other—in tonight's Florida GOP debate. They traded boast for boast and barb for barb as the first questions presented the contest as a faceoff between the two. Gingrich attempted to appropriate the mantle of Ronald Reagan, and a combative Romney attacked him as an "influence peddler" and "chief lobbyist" for Freddie Mac. Gingrich dismissed the slings, saying he's "not going to spend the night chasing Mr. Romney's misinformation," to which Romney responded: "You don't have to take my word for the facts." In other skirmishes:

  • Gingrich, who supports a 15% flat tax, quips that he'd like to bring everyone's rate "down" to that paid by Romney, who declares his taxes are "entirely legal and fair." Mitt also notes that Newt wants a 0% tax on capital gains, in which case "I would have paid no taxes"—because all his income is from investments.
  • Rick Santorum asks why, if Romney and Gingrich consider themselves champions of capitalism, they both supported the bailout of Wall Street and its "destructive" capitalism, instead of letting failed companies fail in a free market system.
  • Romney mocks Gingrich's past statement that he worked as a "historian" for Freddie Mac, saying organizations don't pay $25,000 a month for six years to "historians." He adds: "You were making over $1 million at the same time people were being hurt" by Freddie Mac's decisions.
  • Ron Paul says the government owes people a free-market system, but gave Americans a "mess" instead.
  • All the candidates, except Paul, support continuing sanctions against Cuba. Gingrich jokes that if Fidel Castro dies, "I don't think Fidel will meet his maker; I think he's going to the other place."
  • Romney backs "self deportation" for illegal immigrants, a concept that draws a chuckle from the subdued audience.
  • A section of the debate deals with issues close to the hearts of Floridians—offshore oil, sugar subsidies, the space program, protecting the Everglades and the 2005 battle over comatose patient Terri Schiavo, whose husband and family disagreed about letting her die. Santorum says his visit to Schiavo's hospital as a congressman was only to make certain the judicial procedure was being followed. Gingrich stresses a "bias in favor of life" is automatic for those on death row, indicating Schiavo should have been afforded the same bias.