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Romney questions Gingrich’s debating skills

Speaking at a campaign rally in Jacksonville early Monday morning, Romney suggested that Gingrich’s performance during a recent Florida debate was the turning point in the race.

“I think the real reason [Gingrich] hasn’t done so well connecting with the people of Florida is the people actually saw him in those debates and listened to his background, his experience,” said Romney. 

“They learned for instance that he was paid $1.6 million to be a lobbyist for Freddie Mac and they said, 'That’s not what we want in the White House,' ” he said.

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Gingrich had risen to the top of GOP polls and a victory in South Carolina’s primary thanks to a serious of strong debate performances. Gingrich has said his skills at debating make him the GOP’s best pick to face off with President Obama in the general election.

But a barrage of attack ads from the Romney campaign and a series of strong debates by the former Massachusetts governor have slowed Gingrich’s momentum in Florida and left him trailing in most polls by double digits a day ahead of the primary.

“It’s been fun going to the debates,” Romney said to a crowd of hundreds. “You know, these debates have been going pretty well.

“Speaker Gingrich wasn’t very happy with the debates, though,” Romney said. “He said after the first debate that he didn’t do well because the crowd was so quiet it threw him off. The second debate he said he didn’t do well because the crowd was so loud.”

Romney, leading in the polls, is looking for a decisive win in Florida’s Tuesday primary and hoping to avoid a protracted nomination fight against Gingrich.

At one point during his speech a member of the audience interrupted, shouting “Send him to the moon!” in reference to Gingrich’s plan to colonize the moon by the end of his second term for president.

“You know, the idea of the moon as the 51st state is not what would have come to my mind as a campaign basis here in Florida,” Romney answered, laughing along with the crowd.