GOP candidates clash over influence

Some notable moments from the GOP presidential debate Monday night in Tampa, Fla., a week ahead of the state's Jan. 31 primary:



Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich clashed repeatedly in heated, personal terms, with the former Massachusetts governor tagging his rival as a Washington "influence peddler," only to be accused in turn of spreading falsehoods over many years in politics.

"You've been walking around the state saying things that are untrue," Gingrich retorted in a nearly two-hour debate marked by interruptions and finger-pointing.

Romney, newly aggressive after his stinging loss to Gingrich in South Carolina, called Gingrich a former House speaker who "resigned in disgrace" and spent the next 15 years "working as an influence peddler."

In particular, he referred to the contract Gingrich's consulting firm had with Freddie Mac, a government-backed mortgage giant that he said "did a lot of bad for a lot of people and you were working there."

"I have never, ever gone and done any lobbying," Gingrich retorted emphatically.



Medicare is a testy subject in Florida, home to 3.3 million seniors.

Romney charged that Gingrich lobbied lawmakers to approve legislation creating a new prescription drug benefit under Medicare.

Gingrich denied lobbying, but — aware of his audience — Gingrich expressed pride in having supported Medicare Part D.

"It has saved lives," Gingrich said. "It's run on a free enterprise model."



Romney sought to connect what he called President Barack Obama's lack of mission for NASA with Florida's economic difficulties — a high unemployment rate and a struggling housing market. But he and Gingrich differed on how to reinvigorate the space program.

Romney said he would get academics and private investors together to talk about how to make the program a joint venture between government and commercial interests.

Gingrich derided that approach as "building a bigger bureaucracy" and proposed instead to offer prizes to innovators who figure out how to go back to the moon permanently and put a human being on Mars.



One moderator noted that Romney and rival Rick Santorum have said they would veto the "DREAM Act," which would create conditions under which illegal immigrant minors might achieve U.S. citizenship, and asked if Gingrich agreed.

"No, I would work to get a signable version," he said. "I think any young person brought here by their parents when they were young should have the same opportunity to join the American military and earn citizenship."

Romney said that was the same as his position.

Moments later, he was asked to reconcile two other statements he has made about immigration, that while he doesn't want to deport millions of illegal immigrants, he wants them to return to their home countries and apply for citizenship.

"The answer is self-deportation," which sounded like a new concept from Romney, who then defined it as "people decide they can do better by going home."



No one is accusing Ron Paul of playing up to Florida's famously anti-Castro Cuban-American population.

His rivals talked about wringing the Castro influence out of Cuba. Gingrich, for one, said the U.S. policy "should be aggressively to overthrow the regime and to do everything we can to support those Cubans who want freedom."

"I would do pretty much the opposite," Paul said.

The Texas congressman questioned why the U.S. isn't talking to Cuba's leaders after more than a half-century of tense relations.

"I think it's time — time to quit this isolation business of not talking to people," he said. "We talked to the Soviets. We talk to the Chinese. And we opened up trade, and we're not killing each other now. We fought with the Vietnamese for a long time. We finally gave up, started talking to them, now we trade with them. I don't know why — why the Cuban people should be so intimidating."