The 19th debate in this GOP primary season was held in Florida. This is the last one before Tuesday's primary. From this point on, the pace of primaries and caucuses increases, but the pace of debates slows almost to a halt.
Over the course of the past five days, some of the air appears to have come out of Newt Gingrich's South Carolina balloon. As of this writing (about 8:15 Thursday night) the Real Clear Politics averages for Florida polling were:
Romney - 37.4%
Gingrich - 32.4%
Santorum - 10.4%
Paul - 8.2%
Rick Santorum has lost touch with the leaders. When there are only four left, there is no second tier. If you're not cheek-by-jowl with the frontrunners you're out. Santorum may stay in until February 4 (the date of the Nevada caucuses) but his campaign is essentially over.
Ron Paul will hang around forever. As we've discussed before, he has an intensely loyal following which CNN discovered when they allowed the pro-Paul students too close to their broadcast position and were all but drowned out by the chanting. His standing below Santorum tells me that in primary states he is not a factor, all though he will do better.
Much was made over Gingrich's lackluster performance in Monday debate as causing his reversal of fortune. I'm not so sure (a) there is any reversal of fortune, nor (b) his Monday debate had that much impact.
It is more likely that the snap polls following his significant win in South Carolina last Saturday skewed the results and these numbers are probably more reflective of the current state of play - keeping in mind there are five days to go before Floridians vote.
One of Gingrich's problems is the press corps is looking for him to duplicate the two astonishing performances he gave in South Carolina. He didn't on Monday and he didn't appear to be able to recapture the South Carolina lightening last night.
Romney didn't know about an ad his campaign is running (which requires a disclaimed from the candidate saying "I approved this message"). It had to do with claiming Gingrich called Spanish the "language of the ghetto.
The CNN production crew determined it was a radio ad paid for by his campaign. If you're the candidate you have a responsibility to know what's in your ads.
Romney, in the discussion about his taxes, finally got the message about his wealth right saying that he was proud of his success and we should stop trying to make success a negative.
He has a better answer to the health care system in Massachusetts, although Rick Santorum said he was wrong about that answer.