Romney, Gingrich indulge in sharp exchanges

Washington: As the battle for the Republican White House challenger grew closer, Mitt Romney, the early leader painted his rival Newt Gingrich "influence peddler" as a war of words erupted between the two in their first face to face debate after the Carolina primary.

Romney said Gingrich was unfit for the White House as falling polling numbers forced him into unleashing a personal attack on his nearest rival.

Desperate to outdo each other to bag the party`s nomination to challenge incumbent Obama in the November presidential elections, Republican leaders Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich indulged in sharp exchange of words during the presidential debate.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor, called Gingrich an "influence peddler" who had to "resign in disgrace" from the House of Representatives as the crucial Florida primary nears on January 31.

On the offensive from the word go, Romney attacked Gingrich as a failed leader and a candidate who would put the party at risk in the general election.

As the two top Republican contenders slugged it out on American issues and slammed the Iran policy of US President Barack Obama, accusing him of being weak kneed on Tehran.

"The most dangerous possible thing which, by the way, Barack Obama just did — the Iranians are practicing closing the Straits of Hormuz, actively taunting us, so he cancels a military exercise with the Israelis so as not to be provocative," Gingrich said.

Romney said that he would consider any decision to close the Strait of Hormuz as an act of war. "We ought to have an aircraft carrier in the Gulf, an aircraft carrier and, of course, the task force with it, in Mediterranean."

Romney who suffered a major setback of his political career when he lost to Gingrich in last week`s South Carolina primary, unleashed his harshest attacks to date against the former Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Unlike the past two debates, wherein Gingrich angrily responded to some criticism against him, the Republican leader from Georgia was seen maintaining calm and composure and trying to give a sense of maturity than his nearest rival.

Latest polls show that Gingrich and Romney are now tied in the race nationally. So far, Romney was leading nationally in all the polls.

Gingrich, maintaining his calm, alleged that Romney was indulging in dirty politics. "I`m not going to spend the evening trying to chase Governor Romney`s misinformation. I think the American public deserves a discussion about how to beat Barack Obama," Gingrich said adding that "I think (the election is) about leadership."

"The Speaker was given an opportunity to be the leader of our party in 1994. And at the end of four years, he had to resign in disgrace," Romney said.

"In the 15 years after he left the speakership, the Speaker has been working as an influence peddler in Washington. And during those 15 years, I helped turn around the Olympics, helped begin a very successful turnaround in the state of Massachusetts," Romney argued.

At one point of time it looked as if it was a debate between Romney and Gingrich with the other two participants Ron Paul and Rick Santorum being reduced to mere spectators. "It amounted to a kitchen-sink attack on a man who roared back from defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire to become a mortal threat to Romney`s candidacy," the Politico reported.

"Romney`s newly aggressive behaviour made plain that he views Gingrich as a menace in Florida and nationally," the newspaper added.

"Gingrich, whose pugnacious debating style helped propel him to victory in South Carolina, was far more subdued as he parried Romney`s attacks. He accused the former governor of getting his facts wrong and making distorted charges, and predicted that the voters would reject such politics," The Washington Post said.

"You just jumped a long way over here, friend," Gingrich told Romney sarcastically. Let me be very clear, because I understand your technique …it`s not going to work very well, because the American people see through it," Gingrich added.

"For the first time, Mr Gingrich strode onto the stage as an indisputable equal to Mr Romney after dislodging him from his confident perch as the front-runner," The New York Times said after the debate.