Romney is the aggressor in final Florida debate

By David Espo

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 26 2012 8:50 p.m. MST

The audience erupted in cheers, but Romney wasn't finished.

He said the former speaker had called for construction of 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.

"This idea of going state to state and promising people what they want to hear, promising hundreds of billions of dollars to make people happy, that's what got us into trouble in the first place," Romney said.

Gingrich responded that part of campaigning is becoming familiar with local issues, adding, "The port of Jacksonville is going to have to be expanded. I think that's an important thing for a president to know." He went on to refer to completion of an Everglades project that he did not describe, then noted he had worked to expand NIH while he was speaker.

Gingrich raised questions about Romney's wealth and his investments. "I don't know of any American president who's had a Swiss bank account," Gingrich said. Romney replied that his investments were in a blind trust over which he had no control. "There's nothing wrong with that," declared Romney, who has estimated his wealth at as much as $250 million.

Earlier Thursday, it was disclosed that Romney and his wife, Ann Romney, failed to list an unknown amount of investment income from a variety of sources including a Swiss bank account on financial disclosure forms filed last year. His campaign said it was working to correct the omissions.

Gingrich also failed to report income from his 2010 tax return on his financial disclosure. The former Georgia congressman will amend his disclosure to show $252,500 in salary from one of his businesses, spokesman R.C. Hammond said.

Debating in a state with a large and influential Jewish population, Romney and Gingrich vied to stress their support for Israel rather than criticize one another.

And all four men were quick to name prominent officials of Hispanic descent who deserved consideration for the Cabinet. Gingrich trumped the other three, saying, "I've actually thought of Marco Rubio in a slightly more dignified and central role," an evident reference to the vice presidential spot on the ticket.

Immigration was a recurring theme.

Gingrich said Romney was misleading when he ran an ad accusing the former House speaker of once referring to Spanish as "the language of the ghetto." Gingrich claimed he was referring to a multitude of languages, not just Spanish.

Romney initially said, "I doubt it's mine," but moderator Wolf Blitzer read it aloud and pointed out that Romney, at the ad's conclusion, says he approved the message.

As for immigration policy, it was difficult to discern their differences.

Both men said they want to clamp down in illegal immigration, create programs to make sure jobs go only to legal immigrants and deport some of the 11 million men and women in the country unlawfully.

Gingrich has never said how many illegal residents he believes should be deported, preferring to say that the United States is not going to begin rounding up grandmothers and grandfathers who have lived in the United States for years.

Romney agreed that was the case — and Gingrich said that marked a switch in position.

"Our problem is not 11 million grandmothers," Romney said. "Our problem is 11 million people getting jobs that many Americans, legal immigrants would like to have."

Romney and Gingrich also exchanged jabs over investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two mortgage giants that played a role in the national foreclosure crisis that has hit Florida particularly hard.

Gingrich said Romney was making money from investments in funds that were "foreclosing on Floridians."

Romney quickly noted that Gingrich, too, was invested in mutual funds with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He then added that the former House speaker "was a spokesman" for the two. That was a reference to a contract that one of Gingrich's businesses had for consulting services. The firm was paid $300,000 in 2006.

Associated Press writers Brian Bakst, Kasie Hunt and Steve Peoples contributed to this story.

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