Candidates Attack at Florida Debate

Blogging the Beltway: A well-coached Romney played able offense but Gingrich struggled, with no apparent strategy.

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In the crucial final debate before Tuesday’s Florida Republican primary, the candidates faced off at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Moderated by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, conversation ranged from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to building colonies on the moon (yes, this was discussed for, like, 15 minutes) to whose wife would make the best first lady. And instead of criticizing President Obama, the candidates mostly focused on attacking one another. Here are the highlights.

1. Newt Gingrich Vies for the Immigrant Grandmother Vote

In a section on illegal immigration, Gingrich and Mitt Romney sparred over amnesty. Romney doubled down on his view that sharply restricting employment opportunities would encourage the “self-deportation” of undocumented immigrants, while Gingrich argued that those who have been in the United States for a long time should be able to get residency — especially the grandmothers, whom he repeatedly cited as an example.

The idea that you are going to push them out in some form by simply saying they can’t go get a job — I think the grandmother is still going to be here. All I want to do is to allow the grandmothers to be here legally with some rights to have residency but not citizenship, so that [they] can finish their life with dignity within the law.

An exasperated Romney shot back: “Our problem is not 11 million grandmothers.”

2. Wolf Blitzer Calls Out Mitt Romney

When Blitzer asked Romney to explain a radio ad from his campaign, which claimed that Gingrich had called Spanish “the language of the ghetto,” Romney feigned ignorance, saying he knew nothing about such an ad. The debate moved on. But later, Blitzer came back to Romney with a real-time fact-check:

Governor, that ad that we talked about, where I quoted you as saying that Speaker Gingrich called Spanish “the language of the ghetto” — we just double-checked. It was one of your ads. It’s running here in Florida on the radio. And at the end you say, “I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this ad.”

After the audience reaction of “Ooooooooohhh!” settled down, Romney tried to deflect the matter by simply asking Gingrich if he’d said it. Gingrich claimed his remarks, which concerned his position that all Americans should learn English, were taken out of context.

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