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Thursday's Republican presidential debate, the 19th in this election cycle, saw Mitt Romney tried to fend off Newt Gingrich, while Ron Paul and Rick Santorum shined.

Romney came out swinging fast and when Gingrich attacked, he hit back. Much more aggressive than in the past, he's going all-in to win Tuesday's Florida primary.

In that respect, he likely succeeded in blunting some of Newt's momentum in Florida, as Gingrich was flatter Thursday than in some of the past debates he's owned.

He had some nice zingers and applause-garnering policy proposals, but not a proverbial "knockout punch" like he delivered en route to winning in South Carolina.

Gingrich received praise for his harsh attack on debate moderator John King last week and tried to double down on his strategy of attacking the host to build support.

It backfired a bit last night. Wolf Blitzer stood his ground when Gingrich would not answer a question about his apparent truce over the issue of Romney's tax return.

He called the question "nonsense" and suggested they talk about "issues that relate to the governing of America," but Wolf - and later Mitt - got the better of him.

Rick Santorum, meanwhile, had probably his strongest debate performance in a year, pointedly criticizing both Gingrich and Romney on a variety of issues.

The fourth candidate running, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, would probably be called the winner of the debate if the mainstream media would take him seriously.

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The Florida Republican primary is less than a week away and the gloves are off.

Having been whomped in South Carolina, Mitt Romney came out firing in Monday night's Florida debate and has kept up the pressure on his GOP rival all week.

New pro-Romney ads are calling Gingrich a liar who's exaggerating loose ties to Ronald Reagan and drops names instead of touting his own policy credentials.

Newt lashed out at Mitt today for questioning his conservative values. Watch:

"This is the man who stood up the other night to question my credentials as a Reaganite? This is the kind of gall they have to think we are so stupid, and we are so timid," Gingrich said at an outdoor campaign event in Orlando, Florida.

Newt has slipped a bit in recent polls since his demonstrative win. Can he shift the momentum back his way when the candidates debate again tonight?

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Restore Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, slams rival Newt Gingrich in a new ad for (repeatedly) claiming a connection to Ronald Reagan.

"From debates, you'd think Newt Gingrich was Ronald Reagan's vice president," a narrator says. "Gingrich exaggerates, dropping Reagan's name 50 times."

"In his diaries, Reagan mentioned Gingrich only once. Reagan criticized Gingrich, saying Newt's ideas 'would cripple our defense program.' Reagan rejected Newt's ideas."

"On leadership and character, Gingrich is no Ronald Reagan."

The question: Is Mitt questioning Newt's claims and credentials going to be enough to overcome his own conservative shortcomings in the eyes of voters?

by Free Britney at . Comments

"Well, number one, I've raised a family," Mitt Romney said during Monday night's Florida GOP debate when asked what he'd done to further the conservative movement.

"And I've - I've, with my wife, we've raised five wonderful sons, and we have 16 wonderful grandkids," he awkwardly continued, before finally answering the question.

He went on to mention his private sector and gubernatorial experience, but the reference to his family stuck, highlighting his inability to connect to many voters.

Mitt, Newt

It's a problem evident in his defeat in South Carolina last week. He's skilled at detailing the X's and O's of policy, but falls short in efforts to prove he's authentic.

Newt, meanwhile, talked about helping Barry Goldwater's campaign in 1964 and later Ronald Reagan's successful 1980 bid, as well as his own efforts as Speaker.

The Gingrich campaign certainly reveled in Romney's non-answer. Minutes after the debate, it sent an e-mail titled "Mitt Romney's Top Conservative Achievements."

It was blank.

by Free Britney at . Comments

Florida played host to the latest Republican presidential debate Monday night, and Mitt Romney came out swinging against newly-anointed co-frontrunner Newt Gingrich.

After Gingrich routed him in South Carolina, Romney was forced to change course from his usual try-not-to-lose strategy of appearing competent, inoffensive and vanilla.

Mitt apparently got the memo that in order to stop Florida (which holds its primary January 31) from becoming South Carolina redux, he actually has to show some fight.

As such, he blasted  as an influence peddler and disgraced politician in the debate, which marked the GOP race's most heated and personal exchanges to date.

Gingrich, the grand master of the 18 debates to date, and who pulled off a stunning upset in S.C. in large part due to some debate highlights, was, for once, thrown off.

The most shocking moment of last night may have been when Newt said nothing at all, briefly falling into a frustrated silence at one point amid Romney's barrage.

The night epitomized the direction of the race. It's the insurgents vs. the establishment, with Newt hoping to mobilize the former and Mitt looking to swat him down.

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Mitt Romney was likely never as much of a lock as the mainstream media seems to believe, but Saturday's South Carolina primary results still came as a surprise.

Newt Gingrich rose from the political ashes for the second time with two strong debate performances this week and pulled off an unlikely win in the Palmetto State.

With 40 percent of the vote to Mitt's 27, and nearly all precincts reporting, Newt won big and turned the fluid Republican presidential race on its head once again.

Newt Gingrich Photo

Only a week ago, Romney seemed likely to win all three of the initial contests, a scenario that would have put him on a relatively clear path to the nomination.

But with Thursday’s announcement that Rick Santorum actually won Iowa, followed by today's results, Romney is now a front-runner who has lost two of three.

The result marked a swift, extraordinary turnaround in Gingrich’s fortunes, after he finished well out of the top three in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

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Another Republican debate has come and gone, and as usual there was no shortage of fireworks as Newt Gingrich clashed with his rivals ... and CNN's John King.

Amid reports that Newt asked Marianne Gingrich for an open marriage while cheating on her with Callista Bisek in 1999, King led off the GOP debate with that topic.

Newt was not happy, and he let King know it ...

Reaming out the “destructive, vicious, negative” media rather than his ex-wife, who raised these accusations yesterday, Gingrich said he was appalled by CNN.

Newt, who went on to divorce Marianne and marry Callista in 2000 (they are still married), punctuated his lengthy answer by saying, “The story is false.”

Some other highlights of the second South Carolina debate this week, and the last before Saturday's critical primary in the Palmetto State included:

  • Rick Santorum saying Barack Obama stands for “economic squalor”
  • Mitt Romney saying "maybe" he'll release his tax returns sometime
  • Santorum repeatedly criticizing Newt's grandiosity and stability
  • Gingrich and Santorum claiming Romney is not really pro-life
  • Ron Paul fans yelling for their man to get more screen time

With time running out for all candidates not named Mitt Romney to post a win and halt his march toward the Republican nomination, the tension was high.

Can any of them do it? We'll find out by tomorrow night. We've posted the entire GOP debate, and invite you to share your feedback with us, after the jump:

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Jon Huntsman may have gotten out just in time.

In front of by FAR the most raucous crowd of any Republican debate held thus far, the five remaining GOP hopefuls squared off in South Carolina last night.

Ostensibly, everybody not named Mitt Romney angled to knock the frontrunner off his pedestal. In reality, it became a game of rhetorical one-upmanship.

The crowd cheered their support of U.S. soldiers urinating on dead Afghan bodies and their condemnation of the Obama administration’s condemnation of it.

Newt Gingrich earned a standing ovation for this quote: “Andrew Jackson knew what to do with his enemies - he killed them.” How professorial he can be.

Even Romney, the most vanilla of all candidates, got into the act, saying “The right thing for Osama bin Laden was the bullet in the head that he received.”

No one here's missing Osama, but really Mitt?

The audience then jeered Ron Paul for suggesting that “we should practice the Golden Rule in foreign policy.” Nice to see we boo NOT bombing people.

The yelled their approval of Rick Perry saying America should “go to zero on foreign aid.” They booed Juan Williams for questioning Newt's big janitor idea.

The South Carolina primary has a reputation for being a bloodbath, and last night's rancor showed why. Just imagine if this race were in any way close.

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Newt Gingrich is just throwing $h!t at the wall at this point.

During his college years in the '60s, Mitt Romney spent two years as a Mormon missionary in France. Now, Newt is trying to use that time against his rival as part of his desperate, scorched-earth campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Here's his new ad, titled "The French Connection" ...

The crux of the ad - that Mitt Romney isn't too different politically from failed Democratic Massachusetts presidential hopefuls Michael Dukakis and Sen. John Kerry - might've been effective, but Newt is clearly just bitter at this point.

In a parting shot, the voiceover explains: "Just like John Kerry," the voice in the ad says, "he speaks French too!" Mitt Romney: He's ... multilingual!

Guess he and Jon Huntsman are automatically DQ'd in Newt's mind.

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Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, is striking a populist tone as he looks to fight back against Mitt Romney, the frontrunner in the Republican nomination fight.

In a bid to discredit Romney's economic expertise - the strength of his candidacy, besides perceived "electability" - Gingrich lambasts him for firing people and ruining lives.

In a manner of speaking, of course.

Insisting he is “totally for capitalism,” Newt cited Microsoft for becoming “extraordinarily rich” by “providing a service” while firms such as Bain strip companies down for profit.

It's unclear if this will resonate with voters, but a pro-Gingrich PAC, Winning Our Future, produced a movie about Mitt's tenure at Bain to make its point. Here's the trailer:

A deluge of pro-Romney PAC ads have drawn fire from Newt Gingrich in recent weeks. Now it seems the one-time national frontrunner is firing back in kind.

Time will tell if this line of attacks pays dividends, but it almost seems better suited to a Democratic National Committee ad, not one from a fellow Republican.