Quiet talk in Tampa GOP debate

The audience did not have a role in the debate tonight in Florida, and it subdued things.

There were no standing ovations for Newt Gingrich or loud outbursts, as there have been in recent consequential and boisterous GOP candidate debates in other states.

A toned-down Gingrich assumed the role of frontrunner, and tried to play above the fray. However, his counter-punching and jabs still scored.

On the other hand, Romney brawled. Since losing to Gingrich in SC Romney has been rehearsing the Freddie Mac attack against his rival.

When Gingrich released his Freddie Mac consulting contract, which does not mention lobbying, Romney was ready to point out that he was contracted to the public policy division, which is Freddie Mac's lobbying arm. He added that Gingrich had been hired by the chief lobbyist.

Romney was still stiff and awkward discussing his tax returns. Aides say in 2010 Romney reported income of $21.7 million and has an estimated 2011 income of $20.9 million mostly from investment profits, interest and dividends.

Romney's comments about "self-deportation" for undocumented immigrants will have him explaining himself for awhile. Hs position is actually very similar to that of the House GOP, which is sometimes referred to as "attrition though law enforcement." This mean when authorities encounter illegal immigrants, a legal process to deport them ensues.

Rick Santorum was solid and took strong shots at the electability and conservativism of both Gingrich and Romney.

His performance was not, however, a game changer. Santorum's long term viability in this race hinges on Romney knocking Gingrich out, or vice versa. Though he continues to focus on the two frontrunners, Santorum is a distant third and in a dead heat with Ron Paul.

Paul's performance was consistent with previous outings. He again refused to rule out an independent bid. He says he is focusing more on caucuses than primaries because caucuses are easier to organize than popular vote primaries.

In his election night speeches in SC, NH and IA Paul emphasized advancing "the cause of liberty" more than his progress toward the presidency. However, if Paul scores big in a few caucuses he could move ahead of Santorum in the delegate race.