Never before have debates in the primary/caucus season ever meant so much to the final outcome of the vote than this year. It seems that the public is infatuated with these endless verbal battles. And each contest seems to result in some degree of a shift in public opinion.
The newsiest polls generally suggest that the race between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in Florida is a very tight one. There is little doubt that the Jacksonville, Fla., debate on CNN will likely be the last chance that one of these two men can emerge as a front-runner. The question: Who will take the night?
In my opinion, Gingrich was a bit off in the debate held in Tampa, Fla., earlier this week. Part of that was the result of the format, which did not allow for audience reaction and was dominated primarily by one moderator. But Gingrich also seemed to lack the fire he had displayed in prior debates. Romney was the aggressor, and as all who have ever debated in high school or college know, in an even match, the win goes to the aggressor.
What both candidates really lack is a display of passion about what they will do to implement a truly conservative agenda if elected president. Romney is all over Gingrich for his consulting business and what he describes as a failed time as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Gingrich is now enticed by issues such as a Swiss bank account Romney once had. I'll admit, it does sound a little fishy, but the fact is the people of Florida are far more concerned about jobs, the value of houses and the drain the Obama health care program is having with regard to Medicare than where Mitt stuck his money.
Here is what, in my judgment, each candidate needs to do in order to bring home a victory in the debate. I'll start with Romney.
Mitt Romney would in many ways seem the dream candidate for the Republicans. He is handsome, smart and, of his own making, successful. Here is his real problem ... he is too well organized and controlled for his own good. The press knows that Romney won't banter with them, and in fact, he has ignored opportunities to meet with various editorial boards in Florida. That sends out a cold and distant vibe that is hard for the former governor of Massachusetts to shake. Romney needs to be the real Mitt Romney in the debate in Jacksonville. He should remind people that he became wealthy by his own hard work. And he should end the carping against Gingrich.
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