Romney Comes Out Swinging at Florida Debate

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Coming off his loss to Newt Gingrich in the South Carolina primary, Mitt Romney is going on the offensive.

The former Massachusetts governor came out swinging at Monday night's GOP debate in Tampa, Fla., aiming to cast dispersions on Gingrich's record as speaker of the House.

"In the 1990s, he had to resign in disgrace from this -- his job as speaker," Romney said. "I had the opportunity to go off and run the Olympic Winter Games."

"In the 15 years after he left the speakership, the speaker has been working as an influence peddler in Washington," he contended.

Click play to watch the updated report followed by comments from Regent University distinguished professor of government Charles Dunn.

But Gingrich said his resignation was best for the party.

"I asked the Republicans to vote 'yes' because we had to get it behind us," Gingrich explained. "The Democrats had filed 84 ethics charges for a simple reason. We had taken control of the House after 40 years, and they were very bitter."

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, openly challenged Gingrich's account.

"This idea that he voluntarily resigned and he was going to punish himself because we didn't do well in the election, that's just not the way it was," Paul claimed.

Housing Crisis

Florida is one of the states hardest hit by foreclosures. Just hours after Gingrich released his company's old contract with mortgage lender Freddie Mac, Romney tried to paint the former speaker as part of the problem.

"At a very time when Freddie Mac was getting America in a position when we'd have a massive housing collapse, you could have spoken out aggressively," Romney charged. "You could have spoken out in a way to say 'these guys are wrong. This needs to end.'"

"But instead you were being paid by them," he said. "You were making over a million dollars at the same time people in Florida were being hurt by millions of dollars."

Gingrich replied that he had "offered strategic advice, largely based on my knowledge of history, including the history of Washington."

Immigration

More than 4 million people in Florida are Hispanic or Latino so some candidates are running campaign ads in Spanish. But all four candidates agreed that English is the official language of the United States.

Both Gingrich and Romney say they'd support a law that allows undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship through military service.

Romney said he supports "self-deportation" over having the government round up illegal immigrants.    

"The answer is self-deportation, which is [when] people decide that they can do better by going home because they can't find work here (or) because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here," Romney said.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said America should enforce laws already on the books.

"If you want to be an American, you respect the laws of America," Santorum said. "And you do so continually while you're here."

As voters narrow the GOP field, debates have proven to be very important. The candidates have just two days to cover a lot of ground in Florida before the next debate.

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Jennifer Wishon

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Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.