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Mitt Romney demands apology from Newt Gingrich over ad

January 26, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
It was high stakes and high drama as the four GOP presidential candidates squared off in Thursday's CNN debate in Jacksonville, Fla. The rivalry between the two frontrunners took center stage.

See full coverage of the 2012 presidential election on OTUS News, by ABC News

Mitt Romney came out swinging at Newt Gingrich and even demanded an apology from the former House speaker. Under pressure from a surging Gingrich, Romney fired back at his rival for an ad that says he's anti-immigrant.

"I think you should apologize for it, and I think you should recognize that having differences of opinions on issues does not justify labeling people with highly-charged epithets," said Romney.

Romney has seen his once massive lead in Florida disappear. On Thursday night, he was more aggressive, more confident and more prepared than he has been in recent debates. He again slammed Gingrich for his work as a paid consultant for mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

"He should have been anxiously telling the American people that these entities were causing a housing bubble that would cause a collapse," Romney said.

Gingrich fired back, saying, "Gov. Romney owns shares of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Gov. Romney made a million dollars after selling some of that."

The back and forth continued as Romney told Gingrich to check his own investments.

"You also have investments through mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac," said Romney.

Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, who are trailing in the polls, just wanted to get back to policy.

"You guys should leave that alone and focus on the issues," said Santorum.

Gingrich is in a dead heat with Romney heading into Tuesday's winner-take-all contest, but he's facing backlash from the Republican establishment. Bob Dole, who was leader of the Senate when Gingrich was House speaker wrote Thursday, "Gingrinch had a new idea every minute, and most of them were off the wall."

Gingrich and Romney have been courting the Latino vote in Florida, which makes up 13 percent of the state's 11 million registered voters. At the debate, all four candidates were quick to name prominent Hispanic politicians who deserve consideration for the Cabinet. Gingrich took it a step further hinting he would consider Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as a possible vice presidential candidate on the GOP ticket.

See full coverage of the 2012 presidential election on OTUS News, by ABC News