137623327 Political Reporter Jack Fink: Tampa Debate Shows GOP Race Growing Testier

Republican presidential candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA) talk during a commercial break as they participate in the NBC News, National Journal, Tampa Bay Times debate held at the University of South Florida on January 23, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The following is commentary from CBS 11’s political reporter Jack Fink: 

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – If you wanted evidence that the race in Florida is growing testier and nastier by the minute, just watch last night’s debate in Tampa.

After a big win in South Carolina for Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney went on the attack last night. Romney repeatedly said Gingrich resigned as House Speaker in disgrace following ethics violations.

Romney also accused Gingrich of influence-peddling when he met with Republican Congressmen to discuss Medicare programs on behalf of health care companies.

For his part, Gingrich defended himself by strongly denying any wrongdoing.

But Gingrich remained low-key and didn’t attack Romney.

The reason for this is perhaps best explained by the candidate’s position in the polls.

Gingrich’s victory in South Carolina has fueled his surge in Florida. So Gingrich tried to remain above the fray.

Rasmussen’s Florida poll puts Gignrich at 41 percent and Romney at 32 percent.  InsiderAdvantage’s poll has Gingrich at 34 percent and Romney at 26 percent, while a new poll out Tuesday by Public Policy Polling, shows Gingrich with 38 percent and Romney with 33.

In Florida, the winner of the primary takes all of the delegates.

If Romney loses the Sunshine State, his campaign may be on the ropes. If Gingrich loses, it will hurt, but perhaps not as much, because conservatives still need a candidate they feel comfortable with.

Gingrich will continue.

Romney is not it, though many Republicans say they will vote for Romney if it prevents President Barack Obama from being re-elected.

The next debate is Thursday night in Jacksonville.

It will be interesting to watch the polls, which have been accurate this year, to see whether Gingrich can hold onto his momentum going into next Tuesday’s primary.