After taking a beating by Newt Gingrich in last week's South Carolina debates and primary, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign flailed -- but in Thursday night's debate in Jacksonville, FL, the former Massachusetts governor delivered his most aggressive performance yet.

Florida will hold its primary on Tuesday. And while state polls last week showed Gingrich was the favorite, Romney's numbers bounced back in recent days -- perhaps giving him the confidence he needed to come out swinging during the debate.

Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, has masterful debate skills, but on Thursday night he was frequently caught flat-footed during Romney's attacks.

In a blog post aptly titled 'Newt's Worst Night,' National Review's conservative columnist Rich Lowry wrote, "Newt needed a big night to turn around the momentum and he didn't get it. He struck me as tired and too ticked for his own good."

Gingrich tried to attack Romney's anti-immigration stance, but Romney shot back, "I'm not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. ... The idea that I'm anti-immigrant is repulsive. Don't use a term like that."

Gingrich then confusingly supported the "self-deportation" idea that Romney mentioned last week -- a plan that Gingrich himself had roundly mocked in the days since.

Gingrich scored big points with audiences last week when he scolded CNN newsman John King for asking a question about allegations made by one of his two ex-wives, but his efforts to chastise Thursday night's moderator, CNN's Wolf Blitzer, over a question about Romney's tax disclosures fell flat when Blitzer stood his ground and insisted Gingrich explain a comment he made in a TV interview that Romney "lives in a world of Swiss bank and Cayman Island bank accounts."

"I don't know of any American president who has had a Swiss bank account. I'd be glad for you to explain that sort of thing," he said.

And it wasn't just Romney who was on the attack -- fellow candidates Rick Santorum and Ron Paul also took Gingrich to task over bizarre comments he'd made to laid-off space workers near Cape Canaveral on Wednesday that if elected president next November he'd seek to build a permanent colony on the moon.

"I don't think we should go to the moon," said Paul. "I think maybe we should send some politicians up there."

When Romney raised Gingrich's work for Freddie Mac -- for which he earned $1.6 million in consulting fees -- as a sign that his rival was an influence peddler, Gingrich fought back, saying, "Romney made $1 million dollars [by investing in] Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

But after Romney pointed out that Gingrich himself owns stock in the two government-sponsored entities at the heart of the US housing crisis, Gingrich's only response was simply to glare at his opponent.


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