Tonight's Jacksonville, Florida, debate is a biggie for more reasons than one: It's the last before the state's Tuesday primary; it does not, like Monday's debate, feature a ban on applause; Newt Gingrich knows he needs to bring it; and ... after a seemingly endless stream of GOP debates, it's the last one for nearly a month! And here we go:
- In the first real tussle of the night, Wolf Blitzer asks Gingrich if Romney is anti-immigrant: "I think of the four of us, yes." Romney rips into him: "That's inexcusable ... and repulsive." Gingrich keeps returning to the idea that Romney wants grandmothers and grandfathers to be kicked out. "Our problem is not 11 million grandmothers," Romney fires back.
- On the housing mess, and what should happen to Fannie and Freddie: Gingrich should have been a "whistleblower, not a horn tooter" for Fannie and Freddie, says Romney. "Contracts said I would do no lobbying—none," retorts Gingrich, who hits at Romney's shares in Fannie and Freddie. "This is fun," replies Romney. "My investments are in a blind trust, managed by a trustee. The investments are in mutual funds and bonds—not in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Have you checked your own investments?" Comparing our investments is like comparing "a tiny mouse with a giant elephant," says Gingrich.
- Romney on his Swiss bank account: "I'll say it again: I have a trustee. For a while he had money is a Swiss account reported in the US. There's nothing wrong with that." He gets plenty of applause for saying that what he has accomplished should be an "asset, not a detriment."
- Would Paul, at the ripe old age of 76, release his medical records? He laughs, saying yes, and it's all of a page long. He quips that he'd be happy to challenge his candidates to a 25-mile bike ride in the Texas heat. But, he warns Blitzer playfully, there are laws about age-discrimination.
- Best line of the night, from Paul: "I don't think we should go to the moon; maybe we should send some politicians up there." (The candidates spent a good 10 minutes talking about lunar travel; Romney said Gingrich's idea of a colony on the moon is "a big idea, but it's not a good idea.")
- When asked about health care, all the candidates used it as an opportunity to attack Barack Obama over unemployment. Rick Santorum swings at Gingrich and Romney, too, saying they've changed their tune on health care. Romney's plan "has 15 items directly in line with ObamaCare," he says, insisting that there is a mandate in Massachusetts. The two keep telling each other that they're "factually incorrect." Paul: "I think they're all wrong!"
- Funny tidbit: When asked why his wife would be a great first lady, Gingrich compliments the other wives and says Callista wouldn't necessarily be better than them (no big smile from her during that comment). But "I would be thrilled to hang out with her at the White House."
- On how religion would affect their decisions as president: Gingrich says presidents face "decisions so enormous they should go to God." Santorum says "faith has everything to do with it" and that the Constitution's purpose is to "protect God-given rights."
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