Republican Debate: Mitt Romney Seeks to Derail Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich Kind of Throws in Towel

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Arizona hosted the 20th GOP debate of this election cycle last night, and what followed was a wide-ranging discussion of issues ... and a familiar personal slap-fest.

It's all the same, only the names change. Wednesday, it was Rick Santorum in the coveted, yet also unfortunate role of the guy Mitt Romney trains his sights on.

Romney and Santorum clashed over the federal government's power in a high-stakes debate that might have been the last in the roller-coaster campaign.

Ron Paul was Ron Paul, defiantly making the case for liberty and getting far too little screen time. Newt Gingrich? He may have effectively called it quits.

The combative, knock-'em-out Newt was AWOL. Instead, the jovial Uncle Newt was back, playing everyone's wingman (and promising $2.50/gallon gas).

It was like mid-to-late 2011 again as Gingrich the enthusiastic, vigorously nodding candidate who would never speak ill of a fellow Republican resurfaced.

Even with his now-infamous media foil, CNN's John King, as the moderator, too. Go figure. A shift in strategy as he looks for a third comeback? Maybe.

He'd surely take it if it happened. But equally likely is that his moment passed, he knows it, and is looking to mend fences with his rivals and America.

The debate was held in the southwestern state of Arizona six days before primaries there and in Romney's native Michigan, which he loves everything about.

Romney still faces skepticism among Republicans who dislike his shifting stances on issues, but it was Santorum being called a "fake" conservative by Paul.

Santorum was booed by the audience for his explanation of why he voted several years ago for No Child Left Behind, even though he says he opposed it.

"Look, politics is a team sport, folks," he said of the measure backed by GOP President George W. Bush and other Republicans during his term.

The candidates fought energetically over health care. Santorum said Romney signed the Massachusetts state law that served as a model for Obamacare.

Perhaps the most hot-button topic was later broached when CNN asked, “Which candidate believes in birth control?” This was met with resounding boos.

Yes, the crowd seemed to be booing the concept of birth control.

At one point, a questioner asked the candidates to describe themselves in one word. Paul: “consistent.” Santorum: “courage.” Gingrich: “cheerful.” Romney: “resolute.”

"Resolute" is Trending on Google right now. Mitt can't even sum himself up in one word people understand without having to look up or reference first.

The final question of the night - what’s the biggest misconception about you? - saw Romney choose to respond instead with a spiel about his vision for America.

King tried to stop and bring him back to the “misconception” query. Romney shot back, “You get to ask the questions you want. I get to give the answers I want.”

Not really, but King deferred ... probably out of confusion.

Overall, an impressively wide range of issues were touched upon, though personal squabbling often took over and made it hard to assess their qualifications.

Paul, in particular, is marginalized as Romney looks to squash the candidate with the best poll numbers that week. He barely makes the highlights (below).

Is that what the Republican debate process is about?

As for Romney and Santorum, it remains to be seen if last night blunts the latter's surge a bit after his first appearance as a bona fide co-frontrunner.

Resistance to Romney has been a consistent theme of the campaign, as has the voters' unwillingness to coalesce around one "non-Romney" figure.

Will Arizona and Michigan change that by delivering one or more wins for Santorum next week? If not, can Romney cruise the rest of the way? Stay tuned.

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"'Resolute' is trending on Google right now. Mitt can't even sum himself up in one word people understand without having to look up [sic] or reference first [sic]." "Resolute" is a fine and well-known word and I find it hard to believe that anyone would have to look IT up. But if they need to, that is sad. By the way, "or reference first" makes no sense. Somebody needs to go back snd study basic grammar and proper usage.

Mitt Romney Biography

Mitt Romney Picture Mitt Romney wants to be elected President in 2012. The former Governor of Massachuetts is challenging Barack Obama for that lofty... More »
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Willard Mitt Romney
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