Front-Runners Get Personal Ahead of Fla. Primary

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With just days to go before the all-important Florida primary, the candidates came out strong on the debate stage in Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday night.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich are not only fighting over who's the better GOP candidate, they're fighting over pretty much everything, starting with immigration.

"Mr. Speaker, I'm not anti-immigrant," Romney told Gingrich. "My father was born in Mexico. My wife's father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive."

Unimpressed with Romney's response, Gingrich said, "You tell me what language you would use to describe somebody who thinks that deporting a grandmother or a grandfather from their family -- just tell me the language. I'm perfectly happy for you to explain what language you'd use."

The two front-runners also locked horns over the space program, an important issue in Florida because thousands of jobs are up in the air depending on the future of NASA.

"I do not want to be the country that having gotten to the moon first, turned around and said, 'It doesn't really matter. Let the Chinese dominate space. What do we care?'" Gingrich said.

"I think that is a path of national decline, and I am for America being a great country not a country in decline," the former House speaker declared.

Romney disagreed.

"If I had (a) business executive come to me and say he wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say you're fired," he said.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul said, tongue-in-cheek, "I don't think we should go to the moon. I think we maybe should send some politicians up there."

At one point, Romney and Gingrich threw some personal jabs at one another.

"Maybe Gov. Romney, in the spirit of openness, should tell us how much money he has made off of how many households that have been closed because of his investments. Let's be clear about that," Gingrich said.

"You also have investments in mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," Romney rejoined.

"To compare my investments with his is to compare a tiny mouse with a giant elephant," Gingrich said.

While Gingrich and Romney tackled each other, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who continues to trail the front-runners, called for a time out.

"Can we set aside that Newt was a member of Congress and used the skills that he developed as a member of Congress to go out and advise companies?" Santorum said.

"That's not the worst thing in the world," he said. "And that Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy because he worked hard? You guys just leave that alone and focus on the issues."

Polls show Romney and Gingrich in a tight race in the state. Both hope for a victory to gain momentum in the upcoming primaries and caucuses. Florida voters will make their call on Tuesday.

This story was originally published on Friday, January 27th.

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