by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The hugely important Florida primary was next, Gingrich was on a roll and if Romney did not recover, his entire campaign might be in jeopardy.
Romney’s first priority was to do a better job in Republican debates. He had turned in perfectly serviceable performances in most of them, with the exception of a few memorable gaffes. (Remember that “$10,000 bet” moment with Rick Perry?) But Gingrich was widely seen as dominant in several of the earlier Republican face-offs and had scored big points with conservative audiences by challenging and, in some cases, demolishing the debates’ high-profile media moderators.
There would be two GOP debates in Florida, one in Tampa and one in Jacksonville. Coming off defeat in South Carolina, Romney had to raise his game.
He did. Particularly in the Jacksonville debate, Romney seemed like a new man. He deftly and confidently ripped Gingrich over accusations that Romney had investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and then ran circles around Gingrich on immigration. With nearly everything at stake, and big audiences watching in the biggest primary state, Romney shone.