Gingrich, Santorum Keep Spotlight On Mitt Romney at Florida Debate

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Newt Gingrich abandoned his role as Mitt Romney’s chief antagonist in Thursday night’s presidential debate, going easy on the national GOP front-runner as a third candidate joined the fray in force.

It was Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and Iowa caucus winner, who challenged Romney aggressively over his record on health care as Gingrich repeatedly pulled his punches — a surprising strategy that he may regret if his momentum cools before next Tuesday’s primary.
“What Gov. Romney just said is that government-run, top-down medicine is working pretty well in Massachusetts and he supports it,” Santorum said as Romney spoke up for his home state’s universal health care law. “Folks, we can’t give this issue away in this election. It is about fundamental freedom.”
Romney responded with a forceful defense of the Massachusetts law, which includes an individual mandate, and chided Santorum for his intense demeanor.
“First of all, it’s not worth getting angry about,” said Romney, who promised he’d be able to show that he has “passionate concern” about the American people’s health care in a general election.
The debate here at the University of North Florida failed to deliver the apocalyptic showdown between Gingrich and Romney that was widely expected between the two Florida front-runners. It was their final face-to-face confrontation before Tuesday’s voting, which could cast a devastating blow to Romney’s campaign or dramatically slow Gingrich’s surge into true primary contention.
And if Gingrich hoped that a powerful debate performance would help him sustain his boost from last weekend’s blowout victory in South Carolina, it is unlikely that’s what he got out of the candidate forum.
“He seemed like he had lost his mojo a little bit tonight and I’m not sure why,” said former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Romney backer who declared after the debate that Romney “kicked butt.”
Pawlenty said of Romney’s performance: “He’s somebody who has the ability to deliver consistently at an ‘A’ level.”
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SOURCE: Politico
Alexander Burns