I’m live-blogging the CNN Florida Debate tonight at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, beginning in minutes at 7pm CST. This is the last GOP debate before the Florida primary next Tuesday.
UPDATE 9pm CDT: My opinion, Rick Santorum is the clear winner of tonight’s debate.
Two issues I have in bold type below that I found very interesting. One was a question from a Republican Palestinian American in the audience asking about what they would do about Palestine. The answers were very strong.
The second issue was an audience question: how will you religion impact your job as President. Three excellent answers.
I will use initials of the last names of each candidate, for expediency and will correct it after the debate is over. Remember that some will be paraphrased and some exact quotes, but I won’t have an opportunity to let you know which is which. Regrettably, I will miss some portions of the answers and there will be typos.
The debate is sponsored by CNN, the Florida Republican Party and the Hispanic Leadership Network. organization.
Wolf Blitzer is moderating.
#CNNDebate on Twitter
One minute to answer, 30 minutes for rebuttal
7:03 pm CST:Introducing Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum
Everything in brackeds are my notes.
Santorum says his 93 year old mother lives “just down the beach” and is there with him tonight. Gingrich says Jacksonville will be site of the next nuclear aircraft carrier group. Romney talks about his family. Paul speaks of nation building.
Audience: what actions to address illegal immigration while preserving legal immigration.
BLITZER: Also talk about Romney’s “deportation” idea
SANTORUM: I agree with Romney. We need to respect America. When the first act is entering illegally is not respecting America. Illegals are here illegally, probably stolen someone’s social security, and have probably done a lot of things wrong. Secure the border. E-verify. Sanction employers and deport. The principle of Rule of Law. I am very much in favor of legal immigration. Immigrants bring vitality and love of this country.
BLITZER: You’ve said self-deportation is an Obama level fantasy
GINGRICH: You should fix visas making it easier to be here. We must deport gang member must quicker. Stronger penalties. I agree with self-deportation for those here a short time. I don’t believe those here for a very long time, those married with children, here for years, will not self-deport.
BLITZER: to Romney: the last time self-deportation didn’t work
ROMNEY: You will have a card and employers will check to make sure it is legitimate and not counterfeited. We are not interested in rounding up 11M illegals. It’s important to remember: 3 groups: legals immigrants, those who came with coyotes, and those waiting across the borders to come legal.
BLITZER: to Paul: Your state of Texas has the longest border.
PAUL: These solutions are not very workable. When we have a good economy we need the workers. The way we are handling our borders, visitors can’t get in and neither can workers. We need resources. We worry too much about the borders of Afghanistan. Use that money on our borders.
BLITZER: to Gingrich: why did you describe Romney as the most anti-immigrant candidate.
GINGRICH: We are not going to walk in a city and throw out a grandmother. I want English to be the official language. I will be tough but bold, and I do not believe an unrealistic promise will help. We can decisively control the border.
ROMNEY: That’s repulsive. Say we disagree but to say enforcing US Law as I want to do is simply over the top rhetoric that characterizes politics. Marco Rubio called you out on it. (Huge audience applause)
GINGRICH: I’ll give you an opportunity to self describe. Deporting a grandmother or grandfather – what is your language.
ROMNEY: I said following the law. People who come here legally get work permits. Those who do not, do not. They will self-deport. I am pro-immigration. I want the grandmothers still waiting to come legally to be here.
GINGRICH: You said my position is a magnet. I want the grandmother to be here with some rights but not citizenship, to finish their lives with dignity within the law. (huge applause)
ROMNEY: Our problem is not 11M grandmothers (huge applause). Let’s let legal immigrants come.
BLITZER: to Romney: Your ad accuses Gingrich of saying Spanish is the language of the ghetto.
[UPDATE: Blitzer tells Romney it is his ad, and approved by him]
ROMNEY: I didn’t see the add. (to Gingrich) Did you say that?
GINGRICH: No, I didn’t use the word Spanish. Everyone needs to know our language to go out and get a job. I find his distortion of my position as equally offensive as I find his.
ROMNEY: I believe in our schools we should teach kids in English. I fought for it in Massachusetts.
Hispanic audience question: the US has largely been away in foreign trade policy in Latin America but increasing in leftist countries. What will you do to support free trade with democratic countries.
PAUL: We will be a lot better off trading with Cuba and I am for what you have said. We have no need to go to a country (Cuba) and dictate what kind of government they have. We try to force ourselves on others. South America doesn’t want us to tell them how to pick their government.
SANTORUM: I’m not with Paul or Obama. Our policy with Central and South America has been disgraceful. Honduras – we betrayed them. Obama and Democrats sided with Chavez and Castro and betrayed Honduras. We didn’t stand up for friends in Columbia. We’ve betrayed those friends in our own hemisphere. [the word “betrayed” is mine]. The threat of radical Islam growing in that region is something to pay attention to. I will visit that area of the world to reassure them.
PAUL: Standing up for nations like this means that we impose ourselves, pick the dictators and send the money. We can achieve this by our good will and our example. Where will we get the troops and the money.
SANTORUM: What answer was Paul listening to. Not mine. What I said was building strong relationships with the other countries in the region who are moving toward socialists because we have ignored them. Columbia standing up to Chavez. Obama sided with organized labor and held Columbia out to dry for three years.
BLITZER: Did the federal government contribute to the housing collapse. How would you phase out Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae?
ROMNEY: They were both a big part of the housing collapse. Talks about Gingrich and FM and FM. Says Gingrich was a horn tooter, when we needed a whistle blower. Let people get into homes, rent them if necessary.
[We had whistleblowers and no one is responsible for FM and FM but Democrats]
GINGRICH: Florida is one of the hardest hit states. I did not lobbying – none! I’ve had about enough of this. Romney owns shares of FM and FM and made a million dollars off of some of that. He has investments in Goldman Sachs who today is foreclosing on Floridians.
ROMNEY: My investments are made in a blind trust. I don’t own stock in FM or FM, but there are bonds. Have your checked your own investments. You also have owned mutual funds that have included FM and FM. The speaker worked as a spokesman to promote FM and FM. He was clearly promoting FM and FM to the tune of $1.6M.
GINGRICH: To compare my investments with his is like comparing a tiny mouse with an elephant. You gave no instructions to your blind trust. The only time I ever spoke to Congress about FM and FM, I told them to vote no – give them no more money. We need to get away from those systems.
BLITZER: to Paul: They both made money from FM and FM. Should they return it.
PAUL: I’m not interested in that. Right after the crash it should have been auctioned off. We must quit doing this. Excessive credit, interest rates held too loan to long and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) allowing no conditions to receive a loan. I had legislation 10 years before the bust to end the CRA.
SANTORUM: Years ago I asked for reform for FM and FM. I couldn’t get it done. We must phase them out. Gingrich and Romney: can we set aside these petty issues and focus on the issues.
Break time 7:38 pm
[Thumbs up to Santorum for trying to end these endless, continual sniveling encounters (which Romney started) between Gingrich and Romney. They have both reduced themselves to gnats in my eyes – when there is so, so much more to talk about – like Socialist/Marxist/Communist Barack Obama and his tax evading staffers . American – listen to Santorum. He is a viable candidate.]
BLITZER: transparency – to Gingrich. You said you were satisfied with the level of Romney’s personal finances released in his tax returns.
GINGRICH: I’m with Santorum. This is a nonsense question. This is a national debate.
BLITZER: You’ve criticized Romney’s Swiss Bank Account and Cayman Investments.
GINGRICH: Okay Romney, explain it.
ROMNEY: I have a blind trust. I paid all the taxes. Let’s not castigate individuals who have been successful. Newt you’ve indicated I didn’t earn my money. I did earn it. [droning on about it]
BLITZER: to Gingrich I’m ready to move on to another subject if you are.
GINGRICH: I’m glad to have a truce, but it’s a two way truce.
BLITZER: to Gingrich Explain why you believe under your proposed tax plan, you’ve said Romney would pay zero taxes.
GINGRICH: This is where I am opposite of Obama. I propose a flat tax of 15% as an alternative and we can keep the current system as well. One page, fill it out and pay 15% with no deductions.
BLITZER: All the polls want the wealthiest to pay more. Why are they wrong?
SANTORUM: Because they invest their wealth in measures that employ people. My plan doesn’t reduce the top rate as much as theirs does. I don’t want a flat tax. I don’t believe in zero capital gains. At zero, the wealthy won’t pay much in taxes. I want a tax that will not deter captial investment.
PAUL: My goal is to get rid of the 16th amendment. We can only do that by not having a welfare and warfare country. When you destroy a currency, the Middle Class gets poorer but Wall Street gets richer – without sound money. There is a transfer of wealth. Stop it, but the solution isn’t to tax. If you give an honest product and people buy that product that honest.
BLITZER: to Paul. You would be the oldest president if elected. Will you release your medical record?
PAUL: Of course. It’s only about one page. I’ll challenge everyone on the stage to a 25mile bike ride.
BLITZER: to everyone, will you release your medical records?
Everyone says yes.
Audience: what is your plan for the future of manned space flight and NASA?
BLITZER: Gingrich outlined a long plan yesterday. Permanent base on the moon? Good idea?
ROMNEY: that’s an enormous expense. I’d like to bring in top professors, industry and physicists and military on space needs. Talk about different options, the defense network – a partnership to keep our space program going. I’m not looking for a colony on the moon. I’d rather rebuild housing in the US.
GINGRICH: the bureaucracy has mismanaged so terribly. We no longer have a lift vehicle. My point is by the use of prizes and incentives, opening the space port, the Atlas 5 can be a man-capable vehicle so we don’t rely on Russia. If we had a handful of serious prizes, as Lindbergh received for his flight, we will be in good position
SANTORUM: We need to inspire. Young people are not involved in math or science or dreaming big dreams. Space defense is very important. We need to be more involved, but our deficit – borrowing 40 cents of every dollar, it is not responsible to suggest a big space program. Under me we will spend less money every year until we reach a balanced budget.
BLITZER: to Paul: Space in Texas important
PAUL: I don’t think we should go to the moon, but we should send some politicians there. I had a dream to be the first doctor to go to the moon. I love the ideas but I don’t like building government partnerships. It should be privatized. There would be jobs in aerospace. We don’t need bigger programs or going to the moon. Should be used for National Defense.
BLITZER: to Gingrich: You said you would support 13,000 people living on the moon and giving them citizenship
GINGRICH: I was thinking of JFK and how he inspired youth. The program I envision would be 90% private sector – making it easy for private investment. I agree with Paul. I don’t want to be the country who got to the moon first, now letting China take over.
ROMNEY: If I had a business executive coming to me saying he wanted to put a colony on the moon, he’d be fired. It’s not a good idea. The speaker comes to Florida and has this conversation of space here. In SC it was rebuilding the Charleston Port. You are trying to make people happy. (Huge applause)
GINGRICH: I thought we were a country where the candidates would be responsive to the states they visited. It is useful to know that the Panama Canal is being widened and the Port of Charleston need rennovation (applause). It is possible to do the right things in the right order. You can have priorities.
PAUL: I went back and looked at the record during Newt’s time. You didn’t have a truly balanced budget – neither you or Reagan.
GINGRICH: I proposed we take SS off budget so that no president could threaten as Obama did – not to pay.
SANTORUM. We’ve been downgraded and Obama ignored the work of being honest with the American people what we have to do to get our house in order. We have a $1.2T deficit. Leaders have to honest and focus on bold solutions to first balance the budget.
Audience: I’m unemployed and unable to afford health care. What hope can you promise me?
PAUL: It’s a tragedy. It’s a consequence of the government being involved in health care since 1965. Medical care insurance should be given to you whether employed or not employed. Costs would not so high if it were done this way. Government involvement has made it so expensive. You should have total deduction for your costs. Government has inflated the costs.
GINGRICH: Get the economy growing so she can have job so she can have insurance. Start with repealing ObmaaCare, DoddFrank and SarbanesOxely. She should get the same rate whether buying personally or as an employee. Be able to join a group if she wants to. Get her in charge of her life.
ROMNEY: What both Paul and Gingrich said is spot on. In American now you most likely got insurance through your employer because your employer gets a deduction. You must own your own insurance and have the same tax treatment that companies get. The rates would be substantially lower. Get people to work. His SOTU speech like groundhog day all over again. People are not working. Obama said some of the right things, but he doesn’t do the right things.
SANTORUM: I agree with all and health savings accounts are the answer. Romney was the author of RomneyCare – 15 items directly in common with ObamaCare. Mandates you buy insurance. Gingrich agreed with that as well for 20 years. G and R have been for the top-down model. They can’t excuse that away in a debate with Obama.
GINGRICH: I have said much different over the years. I didn’t advocate state mandates, except at the state level. Dramatically different from RomneyCare or ObamaCare
ROMNEY: We worked it out in Massachusetts. Only two voted no. The people in the state like it. It is very different from ObamaCare. I will repeal it day one.
SANTORUM: Romney just said government run top down medicine is working in Massachusetts. Think about that. We can’t give this issue away in this election. Florida is going to ask if there should be a mandate in Florida.
ROMNEY: I didn’t say I am in favor of top down government run helathcare. 90% are not on the program. 8% could choose any program they wanted. If they didn’t want that, they have to share part of the cost of the government taking care of the. Get the insurance or help the state pay for them.
SANTORUM: Does everyone in Mass have to have health care?
ROMNEY: Everyone has to or pay the state.
SANTORUM: So they are mandated. You have a pre-existing clause in yours like Obama’s. In Mass the rate has gone up 5 times, because the people will pay the fine rather than paying the mandate.
ROMNEY: 98% of the people in Mass have insurance. You don’t like the Mass plan. I don’t like ObamaCare. I will stop Obama’s plan. I will be able to show that I have compassion and concern for those without health care, but I will repeal his plan.
SANTORUM: Your mandate is no different from Obama’s mandate.
[Blitzer is trying to interrupt]
PAUL: I think they are all wrong. This is the typical result of getting government involved. There is a better way. Allow the people to make their own decisions. There was no medicare or medicaid and no one was on the streets suffering without it.
GINGRICH: Look at Paul’s background as doctor, there is a lot to be said of rethinking the whole issue of healthcare.
Audience: We have many Hispanic leaders. Who would you consider?
SANTROUM: Rubio is impressive
GINGRICH: Susanna Martinez, Gov of NM, Senator Rubio, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtin.
ROMNEY: Brian Sandoval, Gov of Nevada, Martinez, Diaz brothers, Mel Martinez, Ros-Lethan, Rubio, Carlos Gutierrez
PAUL: I don’t have one name, but get individuals to understand monetary problems and Hispanics are more opposed to war than other communities. They can give me good advice.
BLITZER: Why will you wife make a great first lady?
PAUL: She’s been my wife for 45 years, a mother and grandmother of 18 grandchildren and does an excellent job.
ROMNEY: My wife is a mom, but in some respects she is a champion and fighter. Diagnosed with MS and breast cancer, and fought both successfully. She will be able to reach out others, and encourage young women to marry before having a family.
GINGRICH: Having gotten to know all the wives here, they would all be wonderful first ladies. Calista has a great artistic flavor, plays French horn, sings, cares about the Arts. She is patriotic about american exceptionalism. She has helped produce 7 movies now. I would be thrilled to hang out with her in the WH.
SANTORUM: My wife is mother to 7 children. She is my hero. She has been well educated. Neonatal nurse for 9 years. Got a law degree to deal with ethical challenges. Gave it all up to be a mom and a wife. We’ve been through losing a child, and having a child with a disability. The amount of love for these kids is extraordinary. She wrote a book about the little boy we lost. She has written a book on manners. Kids are not born good so manners are important. She wrote a book through stories about manners, like Christ taught us through parables.
BLITZER: to Romney: you criticize G for not being close to Reagan. Can you claim the Reagan mantle more than Gingrich.
ROMNEY: Of course not. [talks of private sector experience – Olympics – not answering the question]. I didn’t become political until becoming governor, and I became more conservative at that time. The Speakers was a congressman at that time.
GINGRICH: Interesting to watch the Romeny attack maching – 4 articles today alone. Michael Reagan has endorsed me. Nancy Reagan said Ronnie passed the torch to Newt. I was vastly closer to Reagan. Romney was donating to Paul Tsongas at the time.
ROMNEY: I didn’t vote for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot.
Audience: My parents brought me here from Cuba. Obama is liberalizing trade with Cuba. What is your position?
SANTORUM: I oppose it. We must stand on the side of these people against the despots. We are going to reward the secret police, this type of thuggery, this type of marxism. These countries who harbor and bring in jihadists, by opening up and liberalizing these countries.
BLITZER: to Paul: What would you say to Chavez if he called you?
PAUL: He wouldn’t be likely to attack us. I would take the call and see what we can work out. As well intended as these sanctions are, they hurt the people and help the dictator. The cold war is over. I don’t think the people see a jihadist under their bed every night.
ROMNEY: [doesn’t want to talk about Paul’s position] Obama has ignored Latin America. Must build trade there. Reach out with accommodations – throughout the world, tyrants look for weakness to take advantage. I will use every resource we can short of invasion to make sure when Castro leaves this planet we can help Cuba.
GINGRICH: As Speaker I made sure the Helmsberg Act passed. It was an important step to isolate Castro. Obama is worried about Syria and Egypt, but can’t see a Cuban Spring. We want to bring about freedom to Cuba. We can use a wide range of things: tell Cubans the next generation of Cubans will not have to endure this.
Audience: How will you bring peace to Palestine and Israel when people don’t recognize Palestine. I am a Republican Palestinian-American.
ROMNEY: There is no peace because of Hamas who have as their intent the destruction of Israel – whether in their school rooms or elsewhere, they believe Israel does not have the right to exist. Israel is ready for a two state solution but their right to exist must be recognized. Obama says nothing about rockets raining down on Israel. He threw Israel under the bus. I will stand with Israel.
BLITZER: to Gingrich: you said Palestinians were invented people.
GINGRICH: 11 rockets were fired into Israel in December. How many of you would see that as a peace process. Hamas says not a single Jew will remain. My goal for Palestine is to live in peace by simply saying we will live in peace with Israel. Your political leadership will never do that.
Audience: Puerto Rico – I am bilingual. We have 4M PR voters. We have been treated as second class citizens. Our governor was not mentioned by you. Where do you stand on trade. Do you support PR as the 51st State.
SANTORUM: The governor and I used to go to church together. I’ve been there many times. I helped fix the Medicare program there. We worked on hurricane relief. I believe in self-determination. The PR people should be able to speak on this. The people in PR have to decide that. Puerto Ricans are US Citizens. Progrowth supply side economics needed to make them successful. I take no position on statehood.
Audience: How would your religious beliefs impact the decision you make as president.
PAUL: My religious beliefs affects my character and the way I live, but not the way I govern. My oath of office would direct me.
ROMNEY: I concur with Paul, and I will seek the divine providence as I make decisions. The convictions that the Founders were writing a document that described the relationship between God and Man means something to me. I would assure those principles and values would remain and we would share them around the world.
GINGRICH: Three ways: I agree with Romney. A President is faced with decisions beyond mere mortals. We must go to God. We should show how grateful we are to worship as we please. There has been an aggressive war against Christians by secular elite, judicial and academia. I will stand up and say enough, we are guaranteed the right to religion not oppression by the state.
SANTORUM: The Constitution is the how and why of America. We are endowed by our Creator. It protects God given rights. No other country has it’s rights based on God given rights. Faith has everything to do with it. If our President believes our rights come from the States, those rights can be taken away. I will stand for where our God given rights.
[Three magnificent answers from Santorum, Gingrich and Romney]
Break time. (9:49 pm CDT)
BLITZER: Tell voters why you are the one person on the stage to beat Barack Obama.
PAUL: National polls – I do very well against Obama. The Freedom message does well. It protects Civil Liberties. More tolerance brings people in. My position underminds Obama totally in Foreign Policy. I understand peace and prospertiy and foreign markets.
ROMNEY: We’re headed to a social welfare state. Dangerous direction. I will bring dramatic fundamental change in Washington and to maintain our strength militarily. A Washington bureaucrat can’t do it. I know how win, I have private sector experience and executive experience. That’s how I’ll beat him
GINGRICH: I’ve participated in the two largest Republican sweeps in modern times. What we need is a big choice that goes to the heart of who we are. What we do in 2012 to unleash the america people poses a choice: freedom independence a paycheck and a job or welfare? With big choices we can beat Obama with an American campaign, not a Republican campaign.
SANTORUM: I agree with Gingrich and Romney. Will we be as our Founders intended. I think I’m better than the other candidates. I wasn’t for the bailouts as these two were. Cap and Trade: both bought into global warming hoax. What did Obama led with in SOTU: manufacturing. Appealing to Reagan Democrats – blue collar Democrats. Manufacturing has been the centerpoint of my campaign. That’s why I’m the best person to win the necessary states in the heartland.