Previewing and live-blogging tonight’s GOP presidential debate in Tampa

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The NBC debate in Tampa tonight airs from 8-10 p.m. ET. Romney holds a roundtable on housing in Tampa at 8 a.m. Gingrich kicks off his Florida push with a “grassroots welcome event” at The River Church in Tampa from 2-3 p.m. Santorum tours a factory in North Venice at 10 a.m. and hosts a town hall in Lady Lake at 1:30. Paul has no schedule during the day, but he’ll be at the debate.


9:38 p.m. – National audience wondering why the hell is a newspaper named after a body of water and why a college in Tampa is called South Florida.

9:36 p.m. – Per @reidepstein’s tally, we’re a half-hour in and @RickSantorum’s talked twice, @RonPaul only once.

9:35 p.m. – Where did Brian Williams go? The direct one-on-one between Newt and Mitt was – however – fascinating. When it comes down to it, I thought Romney won the confrontation. Gingrich was always on the defensive, and the argument that working for Freddie Mac had nothing to do with lobbying or influence peddling is unpersuasive on its face.

There was a moment in that exchange when Gingrich simply went silent. That doesn’t happen very often. It felt as if the demagogue had been exposed and was actually somewhat afraid. But it’s a weird dynamic on that stage. I can’t quite grasp it yet.

9:17 p.m. – Gingrich campaign email blasts Romney for decade of losing elections.

9:16 p.m. – Florida heat (it’s 75 degrees down here) really has worn out already tired candidates.

9:15 p.m. – Santorum: “I lost by 18 points but it was only because I was a terrible candidate.”

9:14 p.m. – Rick Santorum throws Steelers legend Lynn Swann under the bus!

9:11 p.m. – Newt: “Now, wait a second…”

9:08 p.m. – Romney called Newt an “influence peddler”, said he “resigned in disgrace” and mentioned right wing social engineering.

9:06 p.m. – The warm Florida weather seems to have slowed down Newt a tad.  Opens debate without using the word “fundamentally.”

8:58 p.m. – Former Governor Charlie Crist is in the crowd at USF.

8:41 p.m. – Advice for the Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith heading into tonight’s televised presidential debate.

8:33 p.m. – How many debates is too many – if there even is such a thing? The Washington Post’s The Fix ponders that as yet another is set to start

8:29 p.m. – Be sure to check out Wayne Garcia’s GOP Debate Lingo Bingo game here.

8:24 p.m. – With a crucial debate tonight and another one on Thursday, the New York Times reports Mitt Romney has recruited Brett O’Donnell, who served as one of Michele Bachmann’s top strategists during her short-lived presidential campaign, as his new  debate coach. “O’Donnell is a veteran of presidential debates, having served as a top debate coach to Senator John McCain of Arizona during the 2008 campaign. In that role, he helped prepare Mr. McCain for debates against Mr. Romney and brings those insights to the current sessions.”

1:21 p.m. – First Read: “When the remaining four presidential candidates gather for the 18th debate of the cycle tonight in Tampa, FL, the stakes couldn’t be any higher, especially for Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. For Romney — fresh off his double-digit defeat in South Carolina and after uneven performances in his last two debates — tonight’s debate is a crucial moment for his campaign. Either he rises to the occasion (by providing sharper answers, by disqualifying Gingrich, and by proving to GOP voters the confidence he can be their guy in November), or he struggles again, giving Gingrich a path to overtake him in Florida. For Gingrich, tonight’s debate will prove if he can withstand the attacks (because they’re coming), and if he can pull off another strong performance.”

“And don’t lose sight of Rick Santorum (who has leveled pointed criticism at both Romney and Gingrich in past debates) or Ron Paul (who has sometimes has served as Romney’s wingman). If we learned anything from South Carolina, it’s that the debates have mattered, and tonight’s debate likely won’t be any different.”

8:07 a.m. – Politico: “It’s great to be glib, but it’s better to be principled,” the former Pennsylvania senator told a crowd of more than 200 standing in a hot parking lot of a strip mall in Coral Springs yesterday afternoon. “When Newt was speaker of the House, within three years conservatives in the House of Representatives tried to throw him out and in the fourth year they did. Why? Because he wasn’t governing as a conservative! He didn’t live up to all of the hype. If you look at what he tried to do and what he accomplished, it just didn’t match with what he said.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.