Live Blog: Florida Debate
Our producer in Florida, Roza Kazan, keeps you up to date with the latest from the debate and ensuing reactions.
11:25pm: Jennifer S Korn, the Executive Director of the Hispanic Leadership Network told Al Jazeera that she too thinks the economy remains very important to Latino voters. “It's the number one issue, whether you are Hispanic or not,” Korn said.
She said illegal immigration is a “huge problem” for the US and won't just go away. But the way to solve it, she said, is to solve the problems of legal immigration in order to “eliminate” illegal immigration. “Most people would love to come to work here in a legal way, but right now it practically does not exist," Korn said.
11:15pm: Political analyst, Luis Fleischman, Professor of Sociology and Political Science at Florida Atlantic University told Al Jazeera that the debate was probably won by Romney in regards to the Hispanic community. An independent voter, Fleischman thinks Romney succeeded in explaining that he is not against immigrants, but that he supports legal immigration.
Fleischman also said that Romney came across as someone who is more realistic and succeeded in focusing his answers on the economy and how he can provide answers to restoring growth.
He predicts that this, together with his very tough stance on foreign policy towards Venezuela and Cuba, is likely to deliver the Latino vote for Romney in Florida.
11:05 pm: Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, President of the Puertan Rican Chamber of Florida, also said she didn't hear enough answers to the questions that worry her. She said the candidates “danced around” every issue. She also dismissed Gingrich's repeated assertion that there should only be one official language: English.
“People speak different languages and to force them to only use English is ridiculous,” she said.
Cuevas-Neunder also ridiculed Romney's idea of self-deportation, saying he does not understand the desperation of some of the immigrants who would rather “starve here in America without a job than go back to their countries, which are often in turmoil”.
“I don't know what they've been smoking to say things like that. To assume people will go back willingly is just crazy”.
10:50 pm: There seems to be a mixed reaction to the debate here at the Hispanic Leadership Network event.
Anthony Suarez, an attorney and former member of the Florida state legislature, told Al Jazeera he was outraged that CNN's anchor did not press all the candidates to talk more about the issue of Puerto Rico, for example (on whether or not they should be allowed to decide either to become independent or a fully fledged state with voting rights for citizens).
“We spent an hour talking about people who are here illegally and could not spend five minutes talking about American citizens who can be sent off to war but who are not allowed to vote for President!”
He also said it was good to see the candidates “mellowing” out on immigration but was not sure how genuine it was. “In Iowa, it was all 'Let's go hang them!' And here it's all gentle talk about grandmothers!”
10:00 pm: Blitzer asks why each candidate would be the best most qualified person on the stage to beat President Obama.
Romney says because "you have to bring somebody from the outside" and that his experience is very different from Barack Obama's. He says he knows how economy works and has good business experience.
Gingrich says he's running for his two grandchildren so they can look back at 2012 as the year when big and important decisions were made.
Santorum says he's better than Romney and Gingrich to prove to the American people that he's not for a top-down government.
This wraps up the debate in Jacksonville.
09:50 pm: A member of the audience asks how your religious beliefs would affect your presidency?
Romney has not had a chance to address the fact that he is a Mormon, which some Evangelicals have called a cult, and not a form of Christianity. But he gives a somewhat unclear answer, quoting the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence.
Gingrich says there should be no oppression of religious freedom and that there is a war on religion in America, and that he'll fight those who'are waging this war.
Santorum also talks about God-given rights and not state-given or government-given rights. Santorum says he believes in faith and reason, and understanding that rights are given by God and not the government, which can take them away.
09:45 pm: A question from a member of the audience who says he is a Muslim Palestinian Republic and he wants to tell Gingrich that "Palestinians do exist".
Romney says the problem is with the leadership of the Palestinian people - Hamas, and "those who teach schools students how to kill Jews."
Both Romney and Gingrich use this question to actually attack Palestinians even more and voice their resolute and eternal support for Israel. (It should be noted that there is a significant Jewish American population in Florida).
Romney says it's the Palestinians who want to eliminate the state of Israel and do not want a two-piece solution. He goes on to say how he will always stand by Israel, as president.
Gingrich defends his position that Palestinians are an "invented" people. He says Palestinian fire rockets into Israel.
"You have leadership in Hamas who says: not a single Jew will live. How can this be a peace process?," Gingrich asks.
He says Obama undermines the Israelis and that his first executive order to the State Department would be to move the embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem.
09:33 pm: A question about Cuba.
Santorum says the spread of left-leaning governments in South America is like a "cancer growing" and that's because of the U.S's "inattentiveness" to that region.
The moderator asked Ron Paul what he would do if he got a call from Fidel or Raul Castro. Paul says "I'd ask him what he called about". But then on a more serious note he says, people are getting more open. "I don't think they see a jihadist under their bed every night".
Romney says Obama has largely ignored Latin America. He wants more free trade agreements with Latin American.
He says Obama gives tyrants what they want (Putin, Ahmadinejad). Romney says he will use every resource he has to make sure - when "Castro finally leaves this planet" - that the people of Cuba enjoy freedom. But he did not give too many specifics.
09:33 pm: Gingrich repeats his line that Obama worries too much about what's going on in the Middle East and "doesn't want to look to his south".
He promises to Cubans to help them "get to their freedom"
09:30 pm: Romney talks about how managing the 2002 Olympic Games in Utah was one of the most useful experiences in his life.
Blitzer asks Gingrich about Romney's assertions that he was not very close to former president Ronald Reagan. Gingrich likes to claim credit for the economic growth and job creation during Reagan years. Gingrich says Romney is distorting the truth.
09:25 pm: A light question on whether the candidates think their wives would make great first ladies?
Paul says he's been married for 54 years.
Romney says his wife had multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, which she has battled successfully. He also said his wife has done a lot of good work explaining to teenagers "the importance of being married before having babies".
Gingrich says his wife is very patriotic about America and he "obviously" would be "thrilled to hang out with her at the White House"
The camera shows each wife as the candidates talk about them.
Santorum says his wife (who is not in Jacksonville) is taking care of their seven children. He says they've "been through a lot together". He says his wife has also written a book on manners.
09:15 pm: Santorum says both Gingrich and Romney do not provide enough contrast to Obama.
Romney tells Santorum he "makes enough of his own mistakes" without Santorum saying he made the mistakes he didn't make.
Santorum and Romney are now going at each other over Romney's Massachusetts health care reform. Santorum sounds angry and Romney says: "First of all, it's not something worth getting angry about". The audience doesn't like that line very much.
Santorum is shaking his head as Romney makes the case for how he will be able to repeal Obamacare and fix healthcare.
"What you are saying is factually incorrect!", Santorum says. "Your mandate is no different than Obama mandate"
Paul says: "I think they are all wrong" - causing yet more laughs among the audience.
09:10 pm: An audience member says she's unemployed and asks what help the candidates can give her to afford medical coverage.
Paul says - the government should not be involved in healthcare. He says that inflates the cost of health care.
Gingrich says that the answer is to grow the economy so "she can have a job and get insurance". He also says the insurance system needs to be reformed. We need to make sure "she's not dependent on being taken care of by Barack Obama".
Romney also talks about "getting people to work". Obama, he says, is failing, and his State of the Union speech was like "groundhog day" all over again. "I will get you back to work" he promises.
Santorum uses his answer to attack Gingrich and Romney again, saying they "didn't always say what they're saying now about Obamacare (Obama's health care reform). He says both of them have supported similar ideas at one point at time.
Gingrich says Santorum is "lumping them together" a little too much.
09:00 pm: Ron Paul continues to entertain the audience. When answering the question about the space industry he says: "I don't think we should go to the moon. I think we should maybe some politicians up there".
Healthcare or something else, he says, deserves a lot more priority than going to the Moon.
Blitzer asks if Gingrich really wants to set up a U.S. colony on the Moon? Gingrich says yes - but the program he envisions would probably be sponsored 90 percent by the private sector. Gingrich says abandoning space exploration would be a path to "America being in decline"
Romney takes up another chance to ridicule Gingrich. He says he's a good businessman and if someone came to him and asked him to spend money on setting up a colony on the Moon he would say to that person "you are fired!". It may be a big idea but it's not a good idea, " says Romney.
Gingrich hits back - saying the job of a candidate is to know what's important in the state where he's campaigning, alluding Romney doesn't care about the space industry, which has its home in Florida.
08:50 pm: Ron Paul is talking about taxing the rich. He says it's not the solution but he understands those who talk about the 99 percent. He says Wall Street hasn't been getting poorer and there has indeed been a transfer of wealth to the wealthy.
But the answer is not to tax, he says.
Blitzer asked if Paul would be prepared to release his medical records, because he's the oldest candidate running. Paul says - it's probably going to be just one page long. He also joked that he would challenge the other candidates to a 25-mile bike race.
08:45 pm: The first half proved to be full of very heated exchanges between Gingrich and Romney, with Santorum also trying to sound angry.
After the break - it's more heat between the two,
Gingrich says Blitzer's question about Romney's tax returns and Swiss and Cayman Islands accounts is a "non-sensical" question. He seems to have gotten back his desire to attack the media (like in the CNN debate in South Carolina when John King asked him to respond to the ABC interview with his second wife)
Romney says he has a trustee who manages his investments - and that's why he has money in a Swiss account and there's "nothing wrong with that". He repeats his line about not inheriting any money, that he's proud of being successful and of the taxes he pays. He asks Gingrich to put it behind and that his success is an asset for America.
08:40 pm: Santorum says Romney and Gingrich are distracting everyone by playing "petty personal politics" . He tells them to leave each other alone and focus on the issues instead.
The first break in the debate.
08:30 pm: A question on housing.
Blitzer asked if the federal government contributed to the housing crisis.
Romney says Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (mortgage companies) were part of the problem and uses it to attack Gingrich, who used to work for them.
The right course, Romney says, is to create jobs and get people back to work – and that will get America's housing industry growing again.
Gingrich hits back at Romney, saying Romney knows perfectly well that it was specified in Gingrich's contract with Fannie and Freddie – that he will do no contracting work for them.
Gingrich also says his campaign found out that Romney himself owns shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – the audience laughs.
So let's ask him – Gingrich says – how many houses were closed by his investments in Fannie and Freddie? This elicits a big round of applause from the audience.
08:25 pm: Ron Paul talks about free trade and thinks this could be the answer with Cuba too (instead of the embargo that exists now). The audience in Miami doesn't like that answer very much and boos Paul.
Paul says - using force doesn't work and gets other nations to "resent" America. The audience boos him again. They don't seem to like his ideas of America getting out of all wars.
Santorum, on the contrary, gets a lot of applause for saying, the U.S. needs to support "its friends in Columbia".
08:25 pm: Romney says the idea that he is anti-immigrant is “repulsive” - addressing Gingrich. The audience in Miami has chuckled, and applauded when Romney said he is glad Florida Senator Marco Rubio forced Gingrich to pull out his ad where he calls Romney “the most anti-immigrant” candidate.
Gingrich says: “I will give you an opportunity to self-describe”. "What would you call a grandmother who's lived here a long time and has ties to her community"
Romney hits back saying he's not going to go around “looking for grandmothers and deport them”.
Romney: "I am pro-immigrant. I want people to come to America, with skill and vitality. They're people already waiting. I want them to come here too”
Gingrich says it's about humanity and letting people finish their lives “in dignity”. Romney hits back saying “our problem is not 11 million grandmothers” - the audience in Miami laughs and cheers.
08:15 pm: Gingrich says we should fix legal immigration. And that the US should have a guest worker program. He says self-deportation will occur only if someone is single. But for those who've been here long time should be allowed to get legal residency but not citizenship.
“The grandmothers and grandfathers aren't likely to self-deport”
Blitzer: What makes you think “self-deportation” will work? (addressing Romney)
Romney defends his position. He thinks there are three groups of people: those who came here illegally, those who were brought in by the “coyotes” and those who are waiting to come to the U.S legally (4-5 million people)
Paul says self-deportation is not very practical and you can't deal with immigration without dealing with the economy. “The way we are handling our borders is hurting our economy”, Paul says. He says the U.S. Spends way too much time “worrying about the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan”.
“We need to worry about our own border!”, eliciting cheers from the audience.
A big round of applause for when Blitzer introduced Romney but even louder cheers for Gingrich, with a crowd here at the HLN event in Miami breaking into a short chant “Newt! Newt!”
They are now singing the U.S. national anthem - as it is being played out in the auditorium in Jacksonville.
08:10 pm: A question from the audience on immigration. And Blitzer adds a question about “self-deportation)
Santorum says yes “self-deportation” is a possible solution (Romney's idea).
08:00 pm: CNN's veteran journalist Wolf Blitzer is moderating the debate.
A video introduction said: “Only one thing is certain – expect the unexpected”. It highlighted that there's been three winners in three contests so far. “It's the biggest battleground so far”.
07:50 pm: Jeb Bush has addressed the gathering at the HLN event in Miami saying “we all know the Florida primary is very very important”.
He told them that there is this “exciting community” that has emerged (Hispanics) that can decided swing states, because it is a big and fastest growing demographic group.
Bush said if Republicans “ignore the inspirational nature of the Hispanic community” then “conservative candidates will lose. “
He said Hispanics want the same things – safe streets, quality education, higher expectations, economic opportunities. "Ask anyone in Miami", he said. "They think taxes are too high and regulations are too many," Bush said.
07:15 pm: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has just addressed members of the press, answering questions on immigration and the importance of the Latino vote. He admitted that it is important for Republicans to get the vote of the fastest growing demographic group (Hispanics), noting that they are usually swing voters.
Bush said Republicans need to promote an “inspirational” message to Latinos but says the media is overplaying the importance of the immigration issue.
Bush answered several questions from Spanish-language media in fluent Spanish, and said Florida is his “beloved” state.
Bush also said he is not endorsing any candidate (a big disappointment for the candidates so far who would have welcomed to have such a heavyweight in the Republican Party as Jeb Bush back them). Bush said the candidates have to “earn” his endorsement first and learn more about Flrodia. But he said he may make a decision after Thursday's primary.
Both Romney and Gingrich have been aggressively courting the Hispanic vote, which is especially important in South Florida. Hispanics make up 11 percent of registered Republican voters and 22 percent of the total population of the Sunshine State.
Expect today to hear questions on immigration, and especially solving the problem of illegal immigration, a huge issue in a country with 11 million of undocumented migrants.
06:45 pm: Four Republican presidential candidates are facing off in their 19th debate tonight at 08:00 pm EST in Jacksonville, Florida. It is the last debate before the crucial Florida primary on Tuesday, January 31st.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are in a virtual dead heat, with the latest Quinnipiac University poll showing Romney leading with just 2 points at 36 percent, within the poll's margin of error. Gingrich is polling at 34 percent.
Observers expect gloves to come off as Romney will try to adopt a more aggressive style of debating, go after Gingrich's character (he has called Gingrich “unpredictable” and “off the wall”).
And Gingrich is expected to attack Romney on his wealth and taxes, which Romney finally made public for the first time on Tuesday.
Also participating in the debate will be former Pennsylvania governor Rick Santorum and Texas Congressman, Ron Paul.
January 26 - Miami, Florida
00:07 am: Jose Mallea, Newt Gingrich's Florida director, dismissed the notion that Gingrich's performance was less articulate and fiery than his last performances. Instead he said he "remained composed and delivered the message". When Al Jazeera asked why Gingrich appeared somewhat subdued, Mallea said the former House Speaker is "comfortable with who he is". Mallea also said Gingrich plans to travel around Florida and talk about Israel and Obama's Middle East Policy (targeting Florida's Jewish population). He will also address Hispanic Americans with a speech at a conference in Miami on January 27.
When asked if Gingrich's campaign is daunted by the amount of money Romney can outspend him with in Florida, Mallea said: "It's not about how little money a candidate has but how strong the message he carries".
11:55 pm: The chairman of the Ron Paul's campaign, Jess Benton, has told Al Jazeera that Paul was the only candidate that presented "real solutions". He says the moderator did not give Paul enough time in the debate, but "we are used to that". When Al Jazeera asked why that was the case, Benton said it is because "the establishment, as always, is scared of Ron Paul." He says all the other candidates just bickered with each other and Paul is the only guy who "asks serious questions" and is ready to have an "adult" conversation. He says the young people like him because "he is sincere about the issues".
11:50 pm: The Media Filing Center at University of Southern Florida is slowly emptying up. Minutes after the debate, the representatives for each candidate spoke to reporters, praising their respective candidate's performance.
Senior strategist Eric Fehrnstrom told Al Jazeera Mit Romney delivered a "knock out" performance, and presented a clear contrast between him and Newt Gingrich. He says Gingrich has to answer more questions about his involvement with Freddie Mac. As for Romney, he says he presented himself as a "clear alternative". "How can Gingrich bring change to Washington when his livelihood has depended on being part of the Washington establishment?".
10.50 pm: Ron Paul says he does not understand how you can advocate cutting food stamps (hinting at Gingrich) but not wanting to cut overseas spending.
Gingrich says that it's a "very humbling thought" that the task now is to "bring America back on track". He says he knows how to do it despite "Washington elites" and "entrenched bureaucracy". He says this election and beating Obama will be an "incredibly difficult journey".
Romney once again brings up his business experience and says he knows how to fix America's problems because he knows how "economy works". Romney says he has a seven-step plan to "make America great again". This includes cutting taxes, reducing energy dependence and balancing budgets.
This wraps up the latest debate in the Republican nominating contests.
10.40 pm: A question about conservatism... Gingrich says he spent most of my lifetime trying to build conservatism. He says "only a genuine conservative is in a position to debate Obama." He says Republicans have "better be prepared" to show the country how "wrong his values are and his practices are".
Santorum says the biggest issue that the country and the economy faces right now is Obamacare (Obama's health care reform). He attacks Gingrich and Romney - who, he says, supported similar programmes (individual mandate - at the core of Obamacare)
He goes back to the Wall Street question and says they "preach conservatives" but they rejected it when it was hard to stand by it (conservatism and not bailing out Wall Street). He says there is no difference between Obama and "these two gentlemen" (Romney and Gingrich).
10:30 pm: A moderator asks the candidates what would they do about NASA, given that America has only one way to send people into the space -- "hitch a ride with the Russians". You all support cutting federal spending, the moderator asks, so should space exploration be a priority?
Romney says yes, it should be a priority. He accuses Obama of having failed the American people on NASA. "He has neither vision no mission for NASA", Romney says. "I happen to believe it's important". Romney wants need to talk to businesses, government, military and education institutions about NASA, its road ahead. "We need a president who is willing to create a mission", he says.
Gingrich is also asked if he's willing to put more money into NASA. He says America needs to have a "series of goals" like "going back to the Moon permanently", going to Mars, developing, commercial space projects. He says there are enough people with enough money in this country to create "romantic" space projects.
10:15 pm: Candidates are asked if English should be the only official language. Why do they run campaign ads in Spanish here in Florida but do not support ballot papers being printed in other languages? All say there needs to be only one language. Romney says immigrants must learn English to be successful, they should not be "limited" by not knowing the language.
Both Gingrich and Romney say they would support only certain parts of the DREAM Act. Romney: "I would not sign the DREAM Act as it currently exists."
Romney also says "self-deportation" of illegal immigrants could be an answer (eliciting a few laughs among the media). This means he says, "they themselves decide to go back home because they have not legal right to work here".
The moderator asks if self-deportation is a valid concept. Rick Santorum says it is already happening. In his opinion, people should not be awarded for breaking the law. "America is worth it doing it the right way". "You come here and you need to respect our laws", he says.
10:05 pm: Santorum gets a chance to answer the Iran question after a break. He says the question is "what happens if Iran gets a nuclear weapon?". He also called Obama's policy on Iran a "a colossal failure".
He says he has bee "untrue to the American public" about the threat Iran poses to the world, not just Israel or America.
Santorum also asks everyone to question isn't Iran already at war with the United States? "They are holding hostages, they are blowing up our soldiers by IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq.
People who are doing this are trained in Iran and equipped by Iran. He accuses Iran of war-like behaviour. "It would be reckless not to do something to stop them (Iran) from getting a nuclear weapon."
10:00pm: The debate has turned to more foreign policy issues.
The Iranian issue is brought up. Romney say if Iran shuts down the Straits of Hormuz, it should be considered "an act of war, an act of terror". And that America should do everything to keep it open.
Gingrich says the American people have no interest in going to war. But the "American people, he says" also have a commitment to the freedom of the seas".
"The most dangerous thing is, Gingrich says is that the Iranians are actively daunting us... So Obama cancels exercises so "not to be provocative?". Gingrich accuses Obama of being weak.
Romney, in his turn, doesn't like Obama's policies in Afghanistan. He says there should be no appetite for negotiating with the Taliban. "You get rid of them", he said in reference to the Taliban.
Ron Paul goes back to the question of the Straits of Hormuz: "We are blockading them". "Put it in the perspective", he says. "Imagine if the Iranians blockaded the Gulf of Mexico?" Paul says it would be the most "foolish thing in the world" to have a war with Iran right now.
09:50 pm: The moderator brings up the Cuba question. What if Castro dies?, they are asked.
Neither Romney nor Gingrich answer the question directly. But they say the US has to stand with Cuba. Romney says: "We need to stand with the people of Cuba and fight with them for their freedom."
Gingrich says Obama is "very infatuated" with the Arab Spring. But he doesn't see a Cuban spring.
Ron Paul, however is more direct and specific. He says himself that he holds "the opposite view". "I don't like the isolationist policies.
The Cold War is over. "It's time to quit this isolationist business". "We started talking to the Soviets, we are talking to the Chinese. I don't understand why we should be isolationist about the Cuban people, and not even talk to them."
09:45 pm: After a break, the moderator asks: Should there be any role for the government for those who fell victims to the subprime loan and housing crisis?
It is an especially sensitive issue here in Florida that has seen one of the highest foreclosures rates in the country and where home values have plummeted since 2008.
Romney says, of course, home owners have to be helped but "government has to get out of the way". Romney says the real solution would be to create jobs, which is especially critical where unemployment rate stands at 9.9 per cent (higher than the nation's average").
09:35 pm: Romney attacks Gingrich on his work with Freddie Mac (The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation). He accuses him of being hired by the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac and effectively being paid by Freddie Mac to lobby their interests with the government.
Gingrich hits back asking Romney a question about his work at Bain. But Romney goes back to accuse Gingrich of peddling special interests on K-Street.
09:31 pm: Rick Santorum says he doesn't have a problem with Romney earning a lot of money.
But he says he does have a question for Romney and Gingrich and it concerns constructive and destructive capitalism: "If you support capitalism that much, then why did you allow the bailout of Wall Street?".
Santorum asks them why didn't they support the notion of destructive capitalism doing its job and letting Wall Street go under.
09:27 pm: Romney is asked about his taxes again, although he already promised to release them tomorrow, Tuesday, January 24.
He turns the issue around: "The real question is not my taxes but the taxes of real Americans". He promises to eliminate the tax on interest, dividends and capital gains. He also promises to He also to lower the tax rate to 25 percent and promote growth.
Romney says that he's sure people will talk about his taxes. "I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more." Romney says he doesn't think people want to see a president who pays more taxes than he has to.
He repeats his previous line "I am not going to apologize for my success".
09:20 pm: Ron Paul says: "I don't dream about the White House. You talk about electability. If you compare my name to Obama - I do quite well, better than others."
The moderator asks Paul: If Newt Gingrich becomes the nominee, will you run as a third party candidate? Paul says he has no intention to do so.
Paul also hints he might support Gingrich because he finds some similarities with his positions.
09:15 pm: Mitt Romney has hit back at Gingrich saying it's a question of leadership. He says Gingrich had to resign as House Speaker "in disgrace" after 4 years in the 1990s. Romney says while he "successfully ran the Olympic games" the Speaker "was an impediment".
Romney also accused Gingrich of "false" attacks and running untrue ads about him. He also said he wants "to point out" things about Gingrich that he thinks people "ought to know".
09:10 pm: NBC News' Brian Williams opens the debate saying the Republican party once again find itself at a critical stage.
He says it's an unprecedented moment in the modern era – three separate contests, three winners.
He opens the debate by asking Newt Gingrich what is his response on the issues of electability, which is what voters said after each previous contest was the crucial issue to them. He said some have called him "erratic".
Gingrich: I would suggest that a solid conservative who believes in economic growth … and has the courage to stand up to the Washington establishment is the exactly bold leader the country needs.
He also reminded the moderator that when he was the House Speaker, the country "had four consecutive balanced budgets, created 11 million jobs. "Most people think that's good. "
Images of Latinos in Florida converge before GOP debate to demand an end of all anti-immigrant rhetoric in the Presidential primaries.
08:50 pm: Another group protesting tonight is a coalition of organizations supporting the DREAM Act legislation (acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), a bill that would allow undocumented students (illegal immigrants) to apply for state loans and grants to receive higher education. It also envisions giving a path to citizenships to immigrants who came to the United States as young children.
Protesters held signs that said "No Dream Act? No Latino Vote!" and "Make the Dream Act a Fact". Protesters from the Farm Workers Association held a sign that said "We are Florida".
Protesters chanted in English and Spanish: “The People are united! We'll never be defeated!”, “Latinos are united! We'll never be defeated”. They also called out the names of each South American country to ask who is present. “Costa Rica? Presente!”, “Argentina? Presente!”, “Mexico? Presente!”
Erik Solderstrom, 21, a University of South Florida student, told Al Jazeera he came out to protest against the nation-wide anti-immigrant rhetoric. He also said Republican candidates must present comprehensive solutions on the immigration issue and not just “patch it up with talk about border control, etc.”
Maya Hidalgo, a so-called "dreamer", a person who would benefit from the Dream Act” is 20 and is originally from Costa Rica. But she says she came to the country when she was 6 months old. Hidalgo told Al Jazeera Republicans must stop using anti-immigrant hatred if they are to get the Latino vote. "The Latinos are here and we are not going anywhere". She said they are here to tell Republican candidates: "We are watching you".
8:00 pm: Several hundred of supporters of Texas Congressman Ron Paul are protesting outside the debate venue. They're holding sings that eitgher simply say “Ron Paul 2012” or support some of his slogans like “End the Fed”. One sign read "Ron Paul Revolution".
Several supporters have told Al Jazeera they came out because Ron Paul is the only Republican they trust and he deserves the attention of the media. David Farris, 39, a private security contractor from Tampa, Florida told Al Jaeera that mainstream media ignores Ron Paul, dismissing him as only a candidate “loved by teenagers”. Farris says he supports him because he is the only candidate who wants to “bring all of our troops home”.
Another supporter, John Kelly, 31, a cook, says he has two small children and does not want them to drafted to go to war. He also complained about Ron Paul being overlooked by the media.
The Morrisons, a family of 5, came to support Ron Paul as the “only constitutional candidate”. Matthew Morrison has told Al Jazeera: “He has voted for 30 years and has always stuck by his principles”. “He doesn't take money from the lobbyists and is the only one who is serious about upholding that oath to the Constitution.”
Another voter, Mary Ferguson, 51, a high school teacher of math and reading said she was an independent but decided to become a Republican in this campaign to vote for Ron Paul.
Ferguson says even if Ron Paul does not become the Republican nominee, he has "already made a huge difference in this country", where you see people talking about the issues he raised "on every corner, in every neighbourhood".
6:30 pm: The debate is organized by NBC News, Tampa Bay Times and National Journal. MSNBC's Chris Matthews, the host of “Hardball with Chris Matthews”, anchored his show live out of the Media Filing Center (press room) from the University of Florida.
This is what Chis Matthews opened his show with: "It seems to me it's coming down to one thing tonight: Mitt Romney is going after Newt Gingrich personally, his going after his character, making who-this-guy-is the central issue of his campaign. Newt knows this better than anyone, Newt will respond".
6:15 pm: At 9 pm tonight in Tampa, Florida, Republican presidential candidates will face off in the 18th debate of the primary season. Despite its place in an already long list of Republican debates, many commentators have dubbed it as the most important one so far.
The reason – three winners in the last three contents in three weeks. The primary season started on January 3rd with the Iowa caucus, which was won by former Pennsylvania governor Rick Santorum. Former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, considered a long-time frontrunner, and the favourite of the Republican party establishment, won the the next contest, the primary in New Hampshire on January 10th. And of course, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich upended the race for the Republican nomination with his double-digit win in South Carolina last Saturday, January 21st.
All three, plus Texas congressman Ron Paul, will be the featured attractions tonight in the 90 minute face-off at the University of South Florida.
The main question is does Newt Gingrich have enough momentum to take Florida after his big win in South Carolina? Will he stick to his aggressive style of debating? And will Mitt Romney's debate's performance improve after the lackluster showing in the last two debates.
This will be the first of the two debates to take place in Florida ahead of the state's primary on January 31st.