Republicans attack each other more than Obama in Florida debate

theGRIO REPORT - Ex-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney repeatedly lambasted former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as an 'influence peddler' in a debate Monday night, illustrating Romney's growing worry about Gingrich's strength...

The Republican candidates have taken a temporary break from blasting President Obama to attack one another.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney repeatedly lambasted former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as an “influence peddler” in a debate Monday night, illustrating Romney’s growing worry about Gingrich’s strength.

In the debate in Florida, which will hold its critical primary on Jan. 31, the two men exchanged charges and counter-charges for the first third of the debate, leaving the other two candidates, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, as bystanders at times.

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“When I was fighting against cap and trade, the Speaker was sitting down with Nancy Pelosi on a sofa encouraging it. When I was fighting to say that the Paul Ryan plan to solve Medicare was bold and right, he was saying that it was right wing social engineering,” Romney said of Gingrich.

Romney’s fiery and sustained attacks on Gingrich are the latest sign of a shifting race since the South Carolina primary, in which Gingrich easily defeated Romney. Polls have shown Gingrich surging near the lead in Florida, and a win there would make Gingrich, not Romney, the GOP’s front-runner.

Romney highlighted Gingrich’s work with the mortgage firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for which he was paid more than $1.6 million over the last decade. Romney cast it as “lobbying” and “influence-peddling,” while Gingrich repeatedly noted he is not a
registered lobbyist and was offering strategic advice.

Romney’s push on Gingrich’s corporate work came after a week in which Gingrich demanded Romney release his tax returns. The former governor is expected to do so on Tuesday.

Because of their sustained focus on each other, the two men did not attack Obama as much as most of the debates in the GOP nomination process. For example, Gingrich did not cast Obama as “the food stamp president,” as he often does on the campaign trail.

Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr