An aggressive Mitt Romney repeatedly challenged Republican presidential rival Newt Gingrich in a fast-paced campaign debate tonight, ridiculing the former House speaker's call to build costly projects in key primary states and to colonize the moon.
Romney vehemently denied Gingrich's own accusation that he anti-immigrant — more so than any other candidate. And, as charges flew back and forth, Gingrich rebutted any suggestion that he couldn't rein in surging federal spending.
"You don't just have to be cheap everywhere. You can actually have priorities to get things done," Gingrich declared, saying that as speaker of the House he had helped balance the budget while doubling spending on the National Institutes of health.
The debate was the second in four days in the run-up to next Tuesday's Florida primary. Opinion polls make the race a close one — slight advantage Romney — with two other contenders, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Texas Rep. Ron Paul far behind.
Gingrich's upset victory in the South Carolina primary last week upended the race for the nomination to oppose Democratic President Barack Obama in the fall, and Romney in particular can ill-afford a defeat on Tuesday.
Ed will have reaction and analysis of tonight's debate at 11pET with the mega-panel of Joy-Ann Reid, Managing Editor of TheGrio.com, msnbc Contributor, Jimmy Williams, former Democratic Senate Staffer and msnbc Contributor, and Richard Wolffe, msnbc Political Analyst.
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