Republican Presidential candidates debate at USF Tampa

01/24/12 Kelly Benjamin
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With the Florida's primary one week away, the top four GOP candidates for President of the United States gathered at Tampa's University of South Florida last night. WMNF’s Kelly Benjamin reports, the candidates sparred during the nearly two hour long debate.

Newt Gingrich's landslide victory in South Carolina last Saturday has shaken Mitt Romney's perceived front runner status. That’s forcing Romney to go on the offensive. Romney laid into Gingrich several times attempting to connect him to the failings of the mortgage lender Freddie Mac.

"We're talking about Freddie Mac, and that one did a lot of bad, and you were working there making a lot of money."

A clearly flustered Gingrich responded that Romney's attacks were false.

"It is not correct Mitt ... you've been walking around this state saying things that are untrue."

Several of the questions focused on Florida-centric issues, such as offshore drilling in the wake of the BP oil spill. Rick Santorum defended continued drilling in the Gulf of Mexico despite the risks.

Both Gingrich and Romney came out in favor of ending subsidies for Big Sugar. The politically influential industry often gives heavily to political campaigns in Florida. Romney quickly deflected the question and focused blame for the state’s economic condition on President Obama.

There were no surprises from Ron Paul. After leaving his options open about running outside the Republican party if he fails to win the GOP nomination, Paul went on to define conservativism for his opponents.

Ron Paul drew the most loyal supporters to hold signs at USF. As a show of gratitude, Paul made a pit stop at the Copper Top Pub after the debate to express his thanks.

The next GOP Presidential debate will be this Thursday evening in Jacksonville. The primary election is one week from today.

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