JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Notable moments from the GOP presidential debate Thursday night in Jacksonville, Fla., just days before the state’s Jan. 31 primary:
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney had their sharpest exchange when Gingrich said Romney was the most anti-immigrant candidate in the GOP field. Romney responded indignantly, reminding Gingrich that Romney’s father, George, was born in Mexico.
“The idea that I’m anti-immigrant is repulsive,” Romney fired at Gingrich. “Don’t use a term like that. You can say we disagree on certain policies, but to say that enforcing the U.S. law to protect our borders, to welcome people here legally, to expand legal immigration, as I have proved, that that’s somehow anti anti-immigrant is simply the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that has characterized American politics too long.”
Romney also asked Gingrich for an apology for an ad Gingrich recently pulled from airwaves that attacked Romney on immigration policy. Gingrich didn’t offer one.
Gingrich’s proposal for a permanent American colony on the moon was mocked by Romney, who said Gingrich is developing a pattern of pandering to local voters.
“If I had a business executive come to me and say I want to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I’d say, ‘You’re fired,'” said Romney, a former businessman.
He then noted Gingrich’s calls for a new interstate highway in South Carolina, a new VA hospital in northern New Hampshire, and widening the port of Jacksonville to accommodate the larger ships that will soon be able to transit the Panama Canal. Romney said promises like that were what had caused a massive budget deficit in the first place.
Gingrich defended himself saying he’d find plenty of things to cut and shouldn’t be mocked for setting priorities.
“You don’t just have to be cheap everywhere. You can actually have priorities to get things done,” he said.
The oldest candidate in the race, 76-year-old Rep. Ron Paul, said he’d be happy to share his medical records with the public if he were the nominee. Then he one-upped his fellow candidates by challenging them to a 25-mile bike ride.
He had no takers.
All of the candidates said they’d release their medical records for scrutiny. Paul, who would be the oldest president ever elected, said his records are short, about a page long.
Gingrich vouched for his competitor’s fitness. “I’m confident that Dr. Paul is quite ready to serve if he’s elected. Watching him campaign, he’s in great shape,” he said with a laugh.
FIRST LADY CHATTER
Asked what their wives would bring to the position of first lady, the candidates were happy to gush about their better halves.
Paul, married for 54 years, says he’s got an anniversary coming up next week. He also plugged his wife’s work as an author — of “The Ron Paul Cookbook.”
Romney praised his wife for battling multiple sclerosis and breast cancer.
“She is a real champion and a fighter,” he said.
Gingrich said he’s met each of the candidates’ wives and said they’d all be “terrific first ladies.” He says his wife, Callista, would bring a tremendous artistic focus and would be a strong advocate for music and music education.
Rick Santorum says his wife is “my hero” because she gave up a successful career to help raise their seven children.
MOM IN THE HOUSE
Santorum got a big applause line when he introduced his mom, 93-year-old Catherine Santorum. During the debate’s introductions Santorum said he was glad to have his mother at the debate. And, it turns out, she can help turn out the vote for her son — she is a north Florida resident. When she stood up to be recognized, the debate hall gave her loud applause.
NO LOVE FOR TSA
Even before the debate started a rowdy, Paul-supporting crowd at the University of North Florida debate site shouted jeers toward the Transportation Security Administration. The anti-TSA chants came days after Paul’s son, GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, was stopped by security at the Nashville airport when a scanner set off an alarm and Paul declined to allow a security officer to pat him down.
Police escorted Paul away, but allowed him to board a later flight.
Ron Paul has already used his son’s experience to promote his “Plan to Restore America,” which would cut $1 trillion of federal spending in a year and eliminate the TSA. He has said the incident reflects that the “police state in this country is growing out of control.”
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