Florida voters will cast their ballots in the GOP primary on Tuesday.
Thursday night, they had their last chance to listen to the four candidates in another presidential debate. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came out prepared, responding to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's attacks on Romney's wealth and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's criticism of Romneycare, comparing it to President Barack Obama's health plan. Gingrich, on the other hand, seemed to get sidetracked on his pledge to build a permanent base on the moon by the end of his second term — should he be elected and re-elected.
Meanwhile, Ron Paul and Santorum both tried to find a little bit of room while their two, more popular fellow candidates hogged most of the spotlight.
In the latest polls out Friday morning, but mostly completed before the debate, Romney has built himseld back into a comfortable lead in Florida. According to an index of polls from RealClearPolitics.com, Romney has a 7.2 point advantage over Gingrich, with Santorum and Paul battling for third place.
The two newest polls, one from Sunshine State News and one from Quinnipiac University, both have Romney enjoying a 9-point lead. Both of those polls interviewed voters Tuesday through Thursday.
Farai Chideya, a journalist and blogger, said Romney finally decided to go after Gingrich in a serious way in Thursday night's debate. Whereas he'd previously tried to portray himself as above the fray, on Thursday he went after Gingrich directly and "put him on notice," Chideya said.
"I think Mitt Romney is taking advantage of some second thoughts about Newt Gingrich and whether or not he's truthful and stable enough to be president," Chideya said.
For example, some questions were brought up before the debate Thursday about Gingrich's comment that he'd offered ABC sources that could rebut his ex-wife's explosive claims about Gingrich wanting an open marriage.
Chideya said for whatever reason, Gingrich wasn't on his game Thursday night, while Santorum absolutely was. But so was Romney.
"Mitt Romney did extremely well. He managed to look very tough, but not un-presidential," Chideya said.
Ron Christie, a Republican political strategist, agreed that Romney was strong, but heaped praise on Santorum as well. Santorum, he said, is still trying to be the anti-Romney candidate, rather than Gingrich.
"He was very sharp last night, very pointed in his criticism of all three of his rivals on the stage, though most of his ammunition was being fired and Gov. Romney and Newt Gingrich," Christie said. "I think Santorum, although he's pulling around 10 percent in Florida, I think he'll get a slight bump in his popularity as a result of this."