Florida Republican Debate Highlights: Mitt Fends Off Newt, Ron Paul & Rick Santorum Shine

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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.

The 76-year-old won applause for nearly every response on monetary policy and civil liberties, his signature issues, as well as delivering some of the best lines.

Asked if he would release his medical records, given that he'd be the oldest person elected president if he were to win, Paul said he would "obviously" release it.

"Because it's about one page, if even that long," the libertarian said, challenging the other candidates to a 25-mile bike ride in the Texas heat to prove his point.

Gingrich went on to praise Paul's vigor and said "he's in great shape" and would be "quite ready to serve." Paul even put Blitzer on notice for "age discrimination."

Whether Thursday night changes the trajectory of the race is unclear, but none of the four prospective Obama challengers show signs of fading away anytime soon.

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