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January 23, 2012 9:00 pm

The Algemeiner’s Republican Debate Blog

avatar by Dmitriy Shapiro

Downtown Tampa, FL, site of tonights debate. Photo: wiki commons.

8:58: Welcome to, NBC/Tampa Bay Florida Republican Presidential Debate live blog. I, Dmitriy Shapiro, will be your humble blogger informing you with any insight I can glean while the candidates battle it out.

All eyes will be on Mitt Romney, who after a stunning defeat in last Saturday’s South Carolina Primary, lost any advantage he previously held in Florida from his front runner status and extensive campaign funds.

With the latest 5 million dollar donation to a Super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich, Gingrich will not have a disadvantage in Florida’s media market, which is many times more expensive than South Carolina’s.

Every Romney supporter is hoping his performance in tonights debate will be an about face from his usual emotionless demeanor and defensiveness thats come to be expected from him.

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Gingrich will no doubt continue his attacks on Romney in order to protect his hard fought-for lead.

Most of all, this will be one of the last chances Rick Santorum has to distinguish himself and escape from the doldrums that his poll numbers are currently wallowing in. Even though he promises his supporters that he will continue, his campaign does not have the money to effectively campaign in Florida or anywhere after it. It may be time for him to consider his losses and back the candidate his supporters will not mind supporting; Gingrich.

So tune in and follow the live blog.

9:03: Although the big story will be about the fight between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, they really need to criticize Obama on his handling of Iran’s belligerence.

9:07: Gingrich is correct to remind voters of the good economy the U.S. enjoyed in the 1990’s, but many can say that it was because of Clinton, and in spite of Gingrich. Romney points out that Gingrich resigned in disgrace. So far, Newt has been successful in making voters forget this. Finally, Romney is awake and on the attack.

9:09: Romney: 88% of Republicans voted to reprimand Speaker Gingrich, leading him to resign.

9:10: Brian Williams asked Romney why he thinks he can win the nomination even though he only won in NH. He said he believes NH is a better reflection of GOP. This is false. New Hampshire tends to be liberal and has open primaries which allow independent voters to skew the vote.

9:17: Rick Santorum is undoubtedly the most conservative candidate, but voters worry that he will not be able to garner enough moderate support in the nation as a whole to successfully take independent voters away from President Obama. Economic issues are not his problem. He is on the wrong side of the GOP majority on social issues. Most conservatives now tend to have a less antagonistic view of issues such as gay marriage. To Santorum’s benefit, voters like his candor. He appears trustworthy, like many people think Ron Paul is, without the crazy stances.

9:24: Brian Williams hits on a good point. Ron Paul is so far from the mainstream on Republican issues, that he and his supporters will never endorse the winner of the nomination. Newt Gingrich is trying to play nice with Paul, which is completely useless. This threatens to make Gingrich’s platform look too close to Paul’s and threaten the support of the large cross section of Newt voters who blamed Ron Paul for the most heinous attacks during the run up to the SC primary.

9:29: Romney does his best when he talks about opportunities provided to Americans by the free market. He is most trustworthy to voters when he speaks about creating jobs and improving the economy. He should emulate Clinton campaign’s “It’s the economy, stupid!” His answer to every question should be: Jobs, Jobs, and more JOBS!

Santorum is right to attack Gingrich on his previous support for TARP bailouts. Santorum is hemorrhaging his supporters to Newt. The worse Santorum can hurt Newt the better, though it will make it quite awkward if he would need to endorse him should he drop out.
9:33: Romney is attacking very effectively. This is a great debate for him. “Really, why would a company hire a “historian?” I can’t be certain, but Newt was most likely hired for his influence and connections in Congress. Newt is very good at doublespeak and so far, it’s been highly effective.

9:37: As expected, the debate deteriorated into something that looks like a schoolyard dispute. Tensions between Newt and Mitt are high. There are plenty attacks to be directed towards President Obama, but so far, only Santorum has really done it. To NBC and Brian Williams’ credit, this debate is far more interesting and professional than ABC’s.

9:42: Ron Paul is correct about the economic bubble, but he was not the only person to forecast it back in the 90’s. It was impossible to stop the runaway freight train at the time.

9:47: Both Romney and Gingrich promise to repeal Dodd-Frank, a bill they claim crippled the economy by creating unneeded regulation of the financial markets. Repeal of Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley, and Obamacare are key issues for the Republican electorate. So far, Gingrich pressed for this most effectively in his speeches around the country.

9:51: Romney: “We need to stand with the people of Cuba who want freedom.”

Gingrich: “I don’t think Fidel will meet his maker, I think he will go to the other place.”

Gingrich seems more aggressive in his dealings with Cuba. This is important to Florida voters because of the large Cuban-American GOP vote. It is also important to Jewish voters because Cuba’s imprisonment of American-Jewish contractor Alan Gross on trumped up charges.

9:55: Santorum points out that Cuba is now working closely with other rogue states. Although, as Ed Koch recently said, an embargo will not improve relations with Iran.  America should use the “soft” power of American diplomacy to sway Cuban perception of Americans.

Romney: You don’t draw down troops in the middle of the fighting season, without listening to the Generals.

Paul: The reaction from Iran to close the Straits of Hormuz is warranted because the U.S. blockade is an act of war. … The American people do not want another war right now, especially with Iran.

9:58: Paul once again shows why he’s not representative of mainstream ideology within the Republican party. Most American voters from both parties see Iran as a legitimate threat to stability in the Middle East. America is not alone in condemning Iran; as the majority of European nations are on board. One thing he is right about, is that the actions from both countries do amount to acts of war.

10:05: Santorum: Obama’s Iran policy is a failure because he is not true to the American people about the actual seriousness of the Iranian threat. (paraphrased)

Santorum is doing a good job pointing out what I said earlier, there is no way you can look at Iran’s action and not see them as a declaration of war. He is doing a great job of maximizing his allotted time in this debate. I am sure many voters appreciate his sensible answers that they don’t have to see through a fog of personal attacks between the front-runners.

10:07: Gingrich is now appealing to Hispanic voters with his inclusive message and Spanish language ads. Then why did he attack Romney for being able to speak French?

10:10: Before SC, NH, and IA Mitt would have attacked Newt on illegal immigration, now he is agreeing. What happened? Oh. The Hispanic vote. And… aren’t refugees from Cuba illegal immigrants that don’t get deported if they step on U.S. soil?

10:12: Romney has definitely taken a page out of Gingrich’s SC playbook in learning how to focus on issues that are specific to the primary State. Where before he would talk about the nation in general. Ron Paul, not knowing the issues on a state level is a prime example of how hard it is for a national level candidate to do that.

10:17: Way to bring back ancient history, Adam Smith. Who has thought about the Terry Schiavo case recently?

10:20: A good question would also be: Dr. Jack Kevorkian died recently, do you believe a patient should have the right to assisted suicide?

10:30: Mitt Romney is making a very powerful argument for NASA. Since the space shuttle program was terminated, the U.S. has had to depend on Russia’s unsafe Soviet-Era “Soyuz” rockets to get its astronauts into space. American exceptionalism lies in innovation and scientific advancement. The space program is important for national pride. Take a look at what they are replacing the Space Shuttle program with:

Project Mercury, here we come again!

10:35: Santorum: Governor Romney is very proud that his state was the first to cap CO2 emissions. …. When push came to shove, they (Newt and Mitt) got pushed. They rejected conservatism when it was hard to stand. There is no difference between President Obama and these two gentlemen.

10:38: More people need to challenge Ron Paul on his over evoking the founding fathers. Anyone who reads the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers would know that he does not agree with any of the significant founding fathers. In fact, there are many specific quotes in James Madison’s notes on the proceedings of the Second Constitutional Convention that directly disagree with Ron Paul’s assertions.

10:45: What a great debate for Romney. He comes off as competent and knowledgeable. Santorum was exceptional. Gingrich was untouched. I am surprised how wrong I was before the debate. This debate had nothing like the moments in CNN’s debate last year.

No news, may be good news for all the candidates. No one was hurt at all. It will be as if it never happened. But at least Romney’s supporters can feel secure that Romney is not self destructing in the debates.

Santorum looks like he is still in the race also. Good performance. Great attacks. Comes off as a very likable guy but I doubt it will change anything in his support.

Closing statement: There were no outstanding performances, and if anyone’s opinion matters, it would be University of Virginia Center for Politics director Larry Sabato’s, who tweeted: No A’s tonight. Romney B+ (closest thing to winner), Newt: B (okay but didn’t shine as usual), Santorum B- (grade upped at end), Paul C.

Thank you very much for joining me. Please post comments below, and follow me on Twitter @dmitriyshapiro Have a Good Night.

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