• With: Dan Henninger, Jason Riley, Kim Strassel

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," January 28, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the fight for the Republican nomination moves to the Sunshine State. He's spending heavily and on the attack, but can Mitt Romney ride the comeback or will Newt Gingrich ride his South Carolina momentum to another big win?

    President Obama makes his pitch to middle class voters, but will his policies deliver the economic fairness he promises?

    The immigration debate takes a heated tone. Why two of Florida's most prominent Republicans are telling candidates to cool it down.

    Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

    The battle for the Republican nomination moved to the Sunshine State this week in what is shaping up to be a two-man fight between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Still fighting from his loss in South Carolina Romney is campaigning hard and spending big in Florida, trying to plant doubt in the minds of voters about Gingrich's behavior, his record in Congress and his work for the mortgage giant, Freddie Mac.


    MITT ROMNEY, R-FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Speaker Gingrich was hired by Freddie Mac to promote them, to influence other people through Washington, encouraging them to not dismantle the two entities. It was an enormous mistake. Instead, we should have had a whistle blower, not a horn tooter.


    GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Political Diary editor, Jason Riley; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

    Dan, the large strategy for Romney, if you look at the polls, seems to be working. He is coming back and now has a lead in Florida in the average of polls. What do you make of what he's been doing?

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: I would say it's good news and bad news about what Romney's doing. The good news is that what he's doing is something he had to do. He had to crack back against Gingrich's criticisms of him and he had to do it very well. He is doing it very well. In the debate, Romney's criticism is showing he's capable of sternly and aggressively going after an opponent. There was no doubt about whether he was doing that against Obama. Turns out he's able to do it.

    The bad news is what he's doing is he's getting down in the muck and mud wrestling with Newt Gingrich rather than spending time attacking the real opponent, President Barack Obama, on a whole array of reasons why Barack Obama should not be reelected president. He's telling us Newt Gingrich was a lobbyist in Washington, which we know.

    GIGOT: He's hitting at vulnerabilities that are genuine. The Freddie Mac problem is a real problem. And it's the truth.

    JASON RILEY, POLITICAL DIARY EDITOR: It is, but what I've been more impressed is Mitt Romney has appeared more comfortable in the last two debates, forcefully defending his record in the private sector and private equity, his wealth. His performance in the last two debates, in talking about why it's not a liability for the Republican nominee to have the background he has, it's an asset, something we should be proud of. And I think he's made that point very forcefully.

    And what he's done in pushing back against Gingrich is taken on the extent to which Gingrich's attacks have been unprincipled, the class warfare rhetoric, Swiss bank accounts, as if Romney inherited this money and hasn't worked for it. He's pushed back and it's resonating.

    GIGOT: Let's look at exchange with Rick Santorum and Romney on Romney's record in Massachusetts.


    ROMNEY: I believe the people of he's state should craft programs they feel are best for their people. I believe ours are working well. If I were governor it would be a heck of a lot better.

    RICK SANTORUM, R-FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What Governor Romney just said is government-run, top-down medicine is working well in Massachusetts and he supports that.


    SANTORUM: Think about what that means going against Barack Obama, who you'll claim top-down government medicine at the federal level doesn't work and we should repeal it. And he'll say, wait a minute, Government, you just said top-down, government-run medicine in Massachusetts works well.

    Folks, we can't give this issue away in this election. It's about fundamental freedom.


    GIGOT: So, Kim, how well did governor Romney do in that exchange and follow-up to Santorum's charge?

    KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: You have to love Rick Santorum. He's struggling in the polls but he's done something nobody else has forced Mr. Romney to do, which is to get in the weeds of the problem of Romneycare and the liability he will face as nominee. The governor has continued to say, you know, states should be allowed to do what you want. What Rick Santorum says is, no, what you fundamentally believe in and showed was that government-run healthcare is OK. How can you make that contrast? Mr. Romney didn't have a good answer because the answer has been states should be able to do what they do, and he's going to get caught on this.

    GIGOT: He goes back to his talking points. Oh, he cut $500 billion from Medicare, Obama did. I didn't do that. As if Massachusetts had anything to do with Medicare and then floundering with his talking points that aren't accurate.

    HENNINGER: There was a crucial important style distinction in what we saw. Mitt Romney says the system we have is quote/unquote "pretty good." And Santorum jumps on that aggressively and says you can't give the issue away by saying that sort of thing. In other words, I'm your debate coach. You cannot go against Barack Obama and talk like that.

    GIGOT: Jason, you were impressed with Romney's performance but isn't this a vulnerability?

    RILEY: It is, and Santorum scored hits. The question is to what extent this will be an issue in November. How much of the election will be about Obamacare --

    GIGOT: Should it be about Obamacare?

    RILEY: but should be economy and jobs. Obama doesn't want to talk about it.


    You look at the polls on Romney on the popularity of Obamacare. It's complex and less popular by the month. Clearly, Romney is not the strongest candidate to go after it. He's saying I'll say I'm going work to repeal Obama care and hoping that's enough to neutralize the issue. We'll see.

    GIGOT: We have one more clip of Rick Santorum talking about the other candidates.


    SANTORUM: These two gentlemen are out distracting from the most important issues by playing petty personal politics. Can we set aside that Newt was a member of Congress and used his skills he developed as a member of Congress to advise companies. And that's not the worse thing in the world. And Mitt Romney worked hard and is going out and working hard. You guys should leave that alone and focus on the issues.