**Written by Doug Powers
Tonight will mark the 17th Republican debate (but it doesn’t feel like it’s been a day over 16 debates). It comes just as Mitt Romney’s 22 point lead in Florida has disappeared, and Rasmussen now has Newt Gingrich with an 11 point lead on Romney with a week to go before the Sunshine State primary. As for Florida’s 50 convention delegates, it’s winner take all, and they know it:
Before the Tampa debate started, Romney went after Gingrich in person and on the Florida airwaves.
At a campaign stop, Romney likened Gingrich to a pinball machine and suggested the former House speaker engaged in “potentially wrongful activity” in his consulting work over the past decade.
Romney then released his first negative ad of the campaign.
“While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in,” the TV ad says, noting that the former speaker made more than $1.6 million working for Freddie Mac. “Gingrich resigned from Congress in disgrace and then cashed in as a D.C. insider.”
Gingrich, meanwhile, is showing no signs of backing down.
During an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he referred to Romney as “somebody who has released none of his business records, who has decided to make a stand on transparency without being transparent.” After initially balking, Romney is set to release personal tax records on Tuesday.
The debate starts at 9 p.m. EST on NBC. Moderator Brian Williams last seen putting an athletic cup in place in preparation for any potential fallout from his first question to Newt. You can watch live online here. I might throw in a comment or two on my Twitter feed while it’s going on.
Romney recently started airing his first anti-Newt ad in Florida. Here’s a preview of what you can expect from the recently put-on-his-heels “only electable candidate” tonight:
Related update: Sheldon Adelson drops another $5 million on pro-Gingrich super-PAC.
**Written by Doug Powers
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