Live blog: CNN Florida Republican Presidential Debate
January 26th, 2012
10:30 PM ET
2 years ago

Live blog: CNN Florida Republican Presidential Debate

(CNN) - The CNN Political Ticker is live blogging the CNN Florida Republican Presidential Debate in Jacksonville. Check here for live updates throughout the event and be sure to follow @PoliticalTicker, @CNNPolitics and use #CNNDebate.

Participating in Thursday's debate are former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

10:39 p.m. ET – Read the full transcript from tonight's debate here.

10:29 p.m. ET@EWErickson: Live by the debate, die by the debate. Romney got the better of Gingrich and Gingrich is probably locked out of a FL win. Will be tough.

10:10 p.m. ET – @JohnKingCNN: Sen Santorum working crowd after #cnndebate. His now famous mom standing by w/ staff and family. http://t.co/YAE2XJsH

10:09 p.m. ET – Read a transcript of the third 30-minute chunk of tonight's debate here.

10:06 p.m. ET – Speaking to CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, Santorum said he was the first candidate to campaign in Florida. Santorum said he had raised twice as much money in the past three weeks than it had in the first nine months of the campaign.

10:03 p.m. ET – Speaking to CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger, Romney said he had a "terrific" debate. When asked about his attacks, Romney said "When I'm shot at, I'll return fire. I'm no shrinking violet."

10:02 p.m. ET – Following the debate, CNN National Political Correspondent Jim Acosta and CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser take you inside the spin room.

10:00 p.m. ET – Blitzer closed the CNN Florida Republican Presidential Debate and said good night.

9:58 p.m. ET - Gingrich pointed to his role in Republican takeovers of Congress, and said the election was a "big choice" that would go to the core of who America is.

Santorum said his values were consistently conservative, and that he had stood for values that were often unpopular.

9:54 p.m. ET – Paul cites national polls that show him competitive with Obama. Said he's for limited government, an idea popular with Americans.

Romney said he was for dramatic change in Washington that would allow economic recovery. Said he was on the outside and knew how business worked.

9:52 p.m. ET – Last debate question to candidates before Tuesday's primary: Why are you the one person on stage to beat Obama?

9:50 p.m. ET – Read a transcript from the second 30 minutes of tonight's debate here.

9:46 p.m. ET@OpenSecretsDC: Ppl in Jacksonville have given $362,550 @MittRomney so far this campaign, far more than any other candidate http://bit.ly/xSzoJg #CNNDebate

9:46 p.m. ET – Paul said his religious beliefs wouldn't affect his governing. Said he would only be beholden to his oath of office.

Romney said he would seek "guidance of providence" in making big decisions.

Gingrich said he would look to God because the job carried such large responsibility. Said there was a war against Christianity in America by secular elite.

Santorum said rights come from God, and that the role of government was to protect rights.

9:45 p.m. ET – Question: How would your religion affect your decisions as president?

9:44 p.m. ET – Santorum praised Puerto Rico, and said he supported self-determination for the island.


9:43 p.m. ET
– Question from the Hispanic Leadership Network: Do you support statehood for Puerto Rico?

9:41 p.m. ET – Gingrich also stikes a strong tone on U.S.-Israel relations, and said "technically" the notion of a Palestinian people was an invention of the 1970s.

9:40 p.m. ET - Romney said there can be no space between Israel and the United States.

9:40 p.m. ET – @psteinhausercnn: Jewish Republicans in Florida are KVELLING right now #CNNDebate

9:38 p.m. ET - Question from an audience member who identified himself as Palestinian-American: What would you do to bring peace between Israel and Palestine?

9:37 p.m. ET - Gingrich pointed to his role in the Helms-Burton act, which strengthened the U.S. embargo to Cuba. Said Obama was ignoring Cuba.

9:35 p.m. ET – Romney said Obama had been ignoring Latin America, something he would change as president. Said he would use every resource to make sure that when Fidel Castro dies, people of Cuba can enjoy freedom.


9:34 p.m. ET
– Paul said sanctions are well-intentioned, but they end up helping dictators and hurting people. Said there wasn't threat of Cuban invasion, and that American people had changed their minds on Cuba.

9:32 p.m. ET – Santorum said he would stand with the Cuban people, but that we shouldn't reward countries that harbor jihadists and supporters of Iran.

9:32 p.m. ET - Question: What will be your approach toward U.S. policy on Cuba?

9:30 p.m. ET - Gingrich said he is much closer to Reagan, pointing to statements from Romney's past that demonstrate more liberal leanings. Romney counters, saying he's never voted for a Democrat when a Republican was on the ballot.

9:29 p.m. ET – Romney said he couldn't claim that mantle, since he was just beginning in politics when Reagan was president.

9:29 p.m. ET – @PeterHambyCNN: Romney looked at politics "from afar," even though pops ran for president and mom ran for Senate

9:28 p.m. ET – Question to Romney: Can you claim the Reagan mantle any more than Gingrich?

9:23 p.m. ET – Paul pointed to wife Carol, said they had been married for more than 50 years. Mentioned her as the author of the Ron Paul Cookbook.

Romney singled out his wife Ann, who is a breast cancer survivor and would be able to connect with people who are suffering.

Gingrich pointed to wife Callista's passion for music and music education, and her books heralding American exceptionalism.

Santorum said his wife Karen was his hero who worked as a nurse and then a lawyer.

9:23 p.m. ET – Question: Why would your wife make a great first lady?

9:22 p.m. ET – Read a transcript from the first 30 minutes of tonight's debate here.

9:19 p.m. ET – Gingrich also mentioned Rubio, saying he was thinking of a more "central and dignified" role for the Florida senator than a cabinet post. Ron Paul didn't mention a specific name, saying there are "plenty in the Hispanic community that would give me good advice."

9:16 p.m. ET – Santorum mentioned Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Gingrich suggested New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. Romney pointed to Florida Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

9:15 p.m. ET – Question from the Hispanic Leadership Network viewing party: Which Hispanic leader would you consider appointing to your cabinet?

9:14 p.m. ET – Paul said neither Romney nor Santorum was correct in the health care debate. Said the government wasn't the solution for providing health care to Americans.

9:13 p.m. ET – Romney made another defense of his plan, telling Santorum it wasn't worth "getting angry over."

9:12 p.m. ET - Santorum continued his attack on Romney's health plan. Said more people were uninsured since paying the fine associated with going uninsured was cheaper than the insurance itself.

9:09 p.m. ET – Gingrich and Romney defended themselves on Santorum's health care charges. Gingrich said states should be responsible for health care. Romney said his plan worked in Massachusetts but was never meant to be enacted nationally.

9:07 p.m. ET – Santorum hit Gingrich for supporting an individual health insurance mandate, and Romney for his role creating Massachusetts' health care law.

9:04 p.m. ET – Paul said getting the government involved in health care increased costs and reduced the quality. Gingrich said there were two problems: expensive care and persistent unemployment. Romney hit Obama for not creating an environment conducive to creating jobs. Santorum agreed somewhat with the other candidates, and also floated a health savings plan.

9:04 p.m. ET – @ronpaul: So Newt just agreed that he lied about balancing the budget. #CNNDebate #tcot #RonPaul

9:03 p.m. ET – @PeterHambyCNN: GOP source sends along the buzz inside the debate theater: "Huge pro Romney energy"

9:03 p.m. ET – Question from audience member about health care benefits for unemployed people. Florida's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 9.9% in December, higher than the national average of 8.5%.

9:01 p.m. ET – Gingrich said candidates should take the time to learn about the states they were campaigning in. Said the programs were possible if costs were kept under control.

8:58 p.m. ET – Romney slammed Gingrich for pandering to local audiences, listing proposals Gingrich made in other early voting states.


8:56 p.m. ET
– Paul continued, saying going to the moon should be pushed by the private sector. Government involvement in space travel should be limited to national defense, he said.


8:54 p.m. ET
– Santorum said Americans needed an inspiring program, but that the focus now should be on cutting costs. Paul said we shouldn't be going to the moon, but suggested "sending politicians there sometimes."

8:52 p.m. ET – Romney said Gingrich's plan of an American base on the moon would be an "enormous expense." Gingrich defended the plan, saying NASA had been mismanaged and a space program would inspire American innovation.

8:51 p.m. ET – @ShepherdCNN: CNN space stories yesterday http://on.cnn.com/ysFifM and today http://on.cnn.com/wPdfuc #CNNDebate

8:50 p.m. ET – Question from the audience about the future of America's space program. NASA has a major presence in Florida, particularly on the "Space Coast," site of the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral.

8:49 p.m. ET – @jimacostacnn: Paul issues challenge to candidates for 25 mile bike ride in the heat of Texas. Press will be skipping that one. #CNNDebate

8:49 p.m. ET – Blitzer asked Paul if he was willing to release his medical record. Paul challenged all the candidates to a 25-mile bike ride.

8:46 p.m. ET - Santorum said he wasn't for a flat tax, but was for simplifying the entire tax code. He disagreed with Gingrich's plan to reduce the capital gains tax to zero.

8:45 p.m. ET – Gingrich said he thinks every American should have the option of paying Mitt Romney's 15% tax rate.

8:42 p.m. ET – Romney said he was proud of being successful, and the he wasn't going to run from it.

8:41 p.m. ET – Gingrich said the question was distracting from real issues. Audience cheered. Blitzer pushed back, saying if he was going to make accusations against Romney, he needed to explain them.

8:40 p.m. ET – Question to Gingrich: are you satisfied with level of transparency of Romney's tax returns?

8:36 p.m. ET – Santorum said we need to decrease the number of mortgages held by Fannie and Freddie. The former senator added he thought the discussion of Gingrich's work with the firm, along with Romney's personal wealth, were distracting from real issues. The audience cheered.

8:35 p.m. ET – Paul said the discussion of investments in Fannie and Freddie didn't interest him. Said the real discussion should be shutting down the two housing agencies.

8:34 p.m. ET
- Gingrich said his investments compared to Romney's are like a mouse and an elephant.

8:33 p.m. ET – Context on tonight's housing discussion: Florida has one of the nation's highest foreclosure rates in the nation. According to RealtyTrac.com, one in 360 homes in Florida is under foreclosure.

8:31 p.m. ET - Gingrich countered Romney's claim he was complicit in Freddie Mac's work, saying Romney had invested in the government sponsored entity. Romney hit back, saying Gingrich also invested in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

8:30 p.m. ET
– Romney said Freddie Mac should have been a whistle-blower, not an enabler of the housing crisis.

8:29 p.m. ET – Question from Twitter about phasing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

8:28 p.m. ET – "Language of the Ghetto" ad is indeed an ad from Romney's campaign. Gingrich claimed he never said those words. Listen to the ad here.

Also see a press release announcing the ad from Romney's campaign.

8:25 p.m. ET – Santorum slammed Obama's policy in Latin America. Singled out relations with Honduras as having great potential that Obama's administration ignored.

8:24 p.m. ET - Paul encouraged free trade, and limited involvement militarily. "Strongly believe it's time we have friendship and trade with Cuba."

8:23 p.m. ET - Question from the Hispanic Leadership Network watch party: What would you do to encourage trade between America and Latin America?

8:21 p.m. ET – Gingrich said Romney's distortion of language in a television ad was offensive. Romney said he wasn't sure what ad Gingrich was talking about.

8:20 p.m. ET – Gingrich said grandmothers who have been in the U.S. for many years should have path to citizenship. Romney said the problem wasn't 11 million grandmothers.

8:18 p.m. ET@shepherdcnn: @newtgingrich on immigration: I am prepared to be very tough, very bold but also prepared to be very realistic. #CNNDebate

8:17 p.m. ET – Romney said Gingrich should apologize for calling him "anti-immigrant." Said that was a "highly-charged epithet" and called it "repulsive."

8:16 p.m. ET – Gingrich received applause for saying English should be the official language.

8:16 p.m. ET – Context on tonight's discussion of illegal immigration:

In the 2008 general election, Latinos made up 14% of the voting electorate in Florida. Fifty-seven percent voted for Obama and 42% went for McCain.

In the 2008 Republican primary, Mitt Romney received 14% of the Latino vote, compared to 54% for Sen. John McCain.

8:15 p.m. ET – Paul said the current handling of border was hurting the economy. People looking to do business aren't able to get into the country. Said we're spending too much time on border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

8:14 p.m. ET – Romney defended plan of 'self-deportation,' saying two of his rivals had previously supported it. Said need to focus on making legal immigration work.

8:13 p.m. ET – Gingrich said he didn't think grandmothers and grandfathers would 'self-deport.'

8:12 p.m. ET@jimacostacnn: Santorum says illegal immigrants are doing more than just crossing border unlawfully: "You’ve probably stolen a social security number."

8:12 p.m. ET - Gingrich said system for visas should be streamlined. Also said that system for deportation needed to be easier.

8:10 p.m. ET@psteinhausercnn: A very different start than in Charleston #CNNDebate

8:10 p.m. ET – Santorum said illegal immigrants are breaking the law. Said we need to enforce law at the border, and have sanctions for employers who hire illegal immigrants.

8:09 p.m. ET – First question from the audience on illegal immigration.

Florida has one of the largest Hispanic populations in the country. In the 2010 census, 22.5% of Florida residents described themselves as Hispanic, compared to 16.3% nationwide.

8:07 p.m. ET – Candidates introduced themselves to the audience. Santorum pointed out his mother in the audience. Gingrich said Jacksonville will be the site of the next nuclear aircraft carrier group. Romney acknowledged his family in the crowd. Paul said he was a champion of a responsible monetary system.

8:06 p.m. ET – Blitzer explained the rules of the debate. Candidates have one minute to answer questions and 30 seconds for rebuttals.

8:04 p.m. ET@jimacostacnn: Were they booing or yelling Newwwwwt! #CNNDebate

8:04 p.m. ET – The National Anthem was sung by the University of North Florida Chamber Singers.

8:03 p.m. ET – Wolf Blitzer introduced the candidates onto the debate stage.

8:02 p.m. ET – Tonight's debate is co-sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida and the Hispanic Leadership Network.

8:00 p.m. ET – Wolf Blitzer opened the CNN Florida Republican Presidential Debate.

7:58 p.m. ET@DonnaBrazile: These debates show that the GOP sure have had a lot of choices this election cycle. The problem is that all of them have been bad choices.

7:56 p.m. ET@MittRomney: For updates during the #CNNDebate follow @EricFehrn @AndreaMSaul @GGitcho @ZacMoffatt @LanheeChen @RyanGOP @TeamRomney #Mitt2012

7:53 p.m. ET@SamFeistCNN: Only minutes away from the Florida #CNNDebate. Here's a preview of the open to tonight's debate. http://on.cnn.com/A0mH2N

7:51 p.m. ET@CNNSitRoom: Less than 10 minutes until the #CNNDebate moderated by @WolfBlitzerCNN. Watch #CNN or http://CNN.com/LIVE.

7:44 p.m. ET
@NewtGingrich: Don't miss the debate tonight. During the debate you can follow Newt 2012 on twitter @newt2012HQ and @newt2012FL #withnewt

7:43 p.m. ET - Florida fact: Florida is a winner-take-all primary, meaning the candidate with the most votes will win all 50 of the state's delegates.

7:39 p.m. ET – Watch a sneak peek of the video open to tonight's debate.

7:34 p.m. ET - Florida fact: A solid majority (61%) of GOP primary voters in 2008 were self-identified conservatives. Romney beat McCain among them, 37% to 29%.

7:31 p.m. ET - @ShepherdCNN: CNN about to get it's debate on #cnndebate. Kudos to our awesome team who put it together PHOTO

7:28 p.m. ET
- @JohnKingCNN: Feisty ron paul supporters marching pre #cnndebate PHOTO

7:27 p.m. ET@AndersonCooper: Just arrived in Jacksonville for #cnndebate. Tune in to @AC360 at 10pm for full coverage of the most important moments. I'm excited!

7:24 p.m. ET – Newt Gingrich arrived at the debate hall, accompanied by his wife Callista.

7:21 p.m. ET – Florida fact: Mitt Romney lost the 2008 Florida GOP primary to Sen. John McCain, 36% to 31%. This time around, McCain endorsed Romney, and campaigned for him in the Sunshine State this week.

7:17 p.m. ET@MittRomney: Tune in at 8:00 P.M. tonight for the #CNNDebate (@ CNN Presidential Debate w/ 8 others)

7:16 p.m. ET – As candidates prepare for tonight's debate, polling shows a two-man race for first in Florida. According to a CNN/Time/ORC International survey released Wednesday, 36% of people likely to vote in Tuesday's Republican primary say they are backing Romney as the party's nominee, with 34% supporting Gingrich. Romney's 2- point margin over Gingrich is well within the survey's sampling error.

The other two candidates are far behind, with Santorum of Pennsylvania at 11% and Paul at 9%, and 7% unsure of who they'll vote for.

7:12 p.m. ET – More from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who said on CNN's "John King USA" the GOP needs to move away from being the "old white guy" party.

7:10 p.m. ET – Florida fact: Florida's contest is a closed primary, meaning only registered Republicans may vote in the Republican primary.

7:08 p.m. ET – Mitt Romney arrived at the debate hall, accompanied by his wife Ann and his son Tagg.

7:06 p.m. ET – Rick Santorum arrived at the debate hall. The debate is taking place at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

7:04 p.m. ET - @WolfBlitzerCNN: Less than one hour to go before I moderate the final #CNNdebate before Tuesday's Florida primary. 8PM ET. I'm excited.

7:02 p.m. ET@David_Gergen: Winner of tonite's debate could well win Fla and close in on nomination. Huge nite for GOP. Join us live at 8 on #CNN.

6:55 p.m. ET
- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke with CNN Chief National Correspondent John King earlier Thursday, and had a few pieces of advice for GOP presidential candidates participating in tonight's debate. Read more here.

6:23 p.m. ET@RickSantorum: Tune in to tonight's #CNNdebate in Jacksonville 8pm ET http://ht.ly/8HOw7


Filed under: 2012 • CNN Debate
soundoff (872 Responses)
  1. Charlie

    I've heard almost all candidates complain about the state of the economy. When do you think the decline began and what would you have done to prevent it from occurring?

    January 26, 2012 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  2. Dena

    Awesome to hear the National Anthem at the beginning of the debate and to see all our candidates with their hands over their hearts!! America!! Land of the Free and home of the brave!

    January 26, 2012 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  3. Ignacio Rodriguez

    How does Sen. Santorum feel about the dream act as Speaker Gingrich puts it, for those who serve in the military. What is his stand on immigration, does he think anything other than just securing the border?

    January 26, 2012 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  4. Laura Wilson

    I can't believe it-the national anthem being sang as it was written! How refreshing!

    January 26, 2012 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  5. 757voter

    CNN....Please give ALL candidates equal time. Last time you carried the debate, the singers of the national anthem had more camera time then Ron Paul.

    January 26, 2012 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  6. Chris ODonnell

    Please ask the canidates ..Mitt and Newt to stop the negativity back and forth and stick to the issues on how will they get our country back on track and defeat the democrates and Obama

    January 26, 2012 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  7. Charlie

    How do the candidates feel about the drawdown of conventional military forces, while relying greater on drones and special forces?

    January 26, 2012 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  8. Ricky Soto

    Ask all the candidates if they will put an amendment in place to protect marriage between a man and a women.

    January 26, 2012 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  9. Dan

    Numerous studies have shown marijauna to have some of the greatest medicinal properties known to man. As president do you recongize marijauna as a medicine ? an do you support the legalization of marijauna for medical use? why or why not?

    January 26, 2012 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  10. Robert N.

    Please ask the Republican candidates what they will be willing to do about the rising student loan debt and how many students graduating from Florida universities are leaving with thousands of dollars in student loans and won't be able to pay them back for decades unless they get a well paying job.

    January 26, 2012 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  11. Lyndsey

    Are all of them just lying about there speeches of changing America like Obama or can they really change this country.

    ~12 year old girl~

    January 26, 2012 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  12. ken

    here is my question, With the unenployment rate still at high levels what are you going to help out the veterans and the veterans that will be comming home to have gainful enployment

    January 26, 2012 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  13. Don

    Please counter the myth that the President perpetuates regarding the taxes paid by Warren Buffet's secretary.
    Explain why it is perfectly okay to have a capital gains tax that is lower than the 3 levels of payroll taxes

    January 26, 2012 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  14. Jenny

    For Mitt Romney
    Since you have done so well in your economic life what can you teach Americans who also want to work hard and do well financially.

    January 26, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  15. Carol Brehm

    2 parts: First to Romney: Yes or no, will you repel the disasterous Obamcare in its entirety?
    Second to all: Stop the negative ads against each other. American voters can see through it. Voters know who they're voting for. Concentrate on Obama.

    January 26, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  16. Heath Robinson

    Ask them how they would deal with Medical marijuana. 16 states and more coming with state programs. So how to deal with it?
    I'm an MS patient, Romney's wife has MS, so what's he think?
    How about Dr. Ron Paul?

    January 26, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  17. Neo

    Question for all candidates:
    Article 1 Section 8 of the United States Constitution states "The Congress shall have Power To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin". This authority was unlawfully relinquished to the Federal Reserve by Congress with the passage of The Federal Reserve Act in 1913. What is your plan to right this wrong and replace America's unconstitutional debt-based fiat currency with a sound constitutional debt-free currency?

    January 26, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  18. Cory

    How can same-sex couples get the same tax benefits as opposite-sex couples if the candidates would not allow the federal government to recognize same-sex couples as financially together?

    January 26, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  19. Craig Emett

    For Newt Gingrich: Today you stated your opposition to both the Democratic and Republican Party establishments. If you are elected President, how do you lead two parties that you rebuked?

    January 26, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  20. Brent Horwart

    To all candidates.... What role have super pacs played either positive and negative In this campaign? As Stephen Colbert has shown there are egregious errors in the system, what you do to solve these errors.

    January 26, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  21. Ignacio Rodriguez

    Ron Paul: Where does the constitution mention a gold standard?

    January 26, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  22. Rick

    About the illegals...
    they should all go back to where they came from...
    if you came here illegally then your kids are illegal too, i donT CARE IF YOU WERE born here or not

    January 26, 2012 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  23. Adam

    Please ask the candidates if they feel it is fair to tax ALL income levels and ALL forms of income (earned or capital gains, etc) at a single and identical rate.

    January 26, 2012 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  24. Z

    How is Newt going to pay for a moon base after the GOP has screamed about spending for the past 3 years, they are all expand military, prop up regimes and move against Iran (supported by Russia btw), at a time when Americans can't get health care, wages continue to plummet and they still support tax cuts for the wealthy that do not work, will one of them actually explain how they figure this will work.

    January 26, 2012 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
  25. Tom Jenkins

    The Economy. National Security. Energy Independency. Immigration Control. Tax Reform. Nuclear Non-Proliferation. Education/Welfare/Social Security. If you are elected President, how would you rank these 7 Issues?

    January 26, 2012 08:10 pm at 8:10 pm |
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