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Santorum Challenges Romney on Health Care in Last Florida GOP Debate

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  • CNN Florida GOP debate
    (Photo: Reuters/Brian Snyder)
    Republican presidential candidates (L-R) former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and U.S Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) stand for the national anthem before the Republican presidential candidates debate in Jacksonville, Florida January 26, 2012.
By Paul Stanley, Christian Post Reporter
January 27, 2012|8:50 am

If voters were expecting a knockout in Thursday night's CNN debate, they were disappointed. Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are still standing. But the news of the evening was Rick Santorum's challenge to Romney's record on health care.

"What Gov. Romney just said is that government run, top-down medicine is working pretty well in Massachusetts and he supports it," Santorum said as he challenged Romney over his state's health care provisions. "Folks, we can't give this issue away in this election; it is about fundamental freedom."

Romney responded, "I didn't say I was in favor to top-down, government-run health care. Ninety-two percent of the residents in my state had health insurance. If you don't want to buy insurance, you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill … We said no more free riders … Either get the insurance or help pay for your care."

Santorum, looking for an opportunity to continue the discussion on Romney's Massachusetts plan, kept the pressure on. "So in Massachusetts … everybody is mandated as a condition of breathing in Massachusetts to be able to buy health insurance, and if you don't you have to pay a fine. What's happened in Massachusetts is people are not paying the fine … Free ridership has gone up five-fold in Massachusetts. Why? Because people are willing to pay a fine."

Romney, who defended the Massachusetts health care mandate snapped back at Santorum. "First of all, it's not worth getting angry about," said Romney as the audience jeered.

"Obamacare takes over health care for the country," said Romney. "I will repeal it the first day of my presidency."

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With only four days before residents of the Sunshine State go to the polls, Romney and Gingrich find themselves in a statistical dead-heat for the top-spot. Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul find themselves further back in third and fourth place, respectively.

Paul has all but given up on Florida and is heading to Maine in hopes of competing in the state's caucus on Feb. 4.

For most political analysts, picking winners and losers is extremely subjective.

"Romney won two ways tonight," Republican strategist Alex Castellanos told CNN. "One, by having a good debate and two by having Santorum have his best debate yet."

Castellanos' comments refer to the fact that Romney appeals to more moderate Republicans while the bulk of Gingrich and Santorum's support comes from conservatives and evangelicals.

Gingrich and Romney continued their attacks on each other's personal wealth and investments, including those in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The former speaker accused Romney of knowingly and "unfairly" attacking him on his relationship with mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Gingrich also claimed that Romney had profited off investments in both Fannie and Freddie.

Romney, in one of his best moments of the debate, seemed to catch Gingrich off-guard, reminding him that he also had invested in mutual funds that in turn invested in the mortgage entities.

When asked if Gingrich and Romney should return any profits from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, Paul replied in one of the evening's lighter moments, "The subject matter doesn't really interest me." The comment drew laughter and applause from the audience.

As expected in a Florida debate, immigration also took a top-spot in the debate.

Romney said it was "repulsive" that Gingrich sought to label him "the most anti-immigrant candidate in the race." Gingrich fired back, saying that Romney had misled voters by accusing him of referring to Spanish as "the language of the ghetto" in an ad.

The former Massachusetts governor initially said he had no knowledge of the ad until moderator Wolf Blitzer pointed out moments later Romney had indeed "approved" he message.

Gingrich and Romney will both address the Hispanic Leadership Network conference in Miami and have an opportunity to make yet another appeal prior to next Tuesday's Florida election.

 

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