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Nightly News

Nightly News   |  January 23, 2012

Mitt Romney’s new strategy

The candidates square off eight days before the Florida primary. NBC’s Peter Alexander reports.

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>>> good evening from tampa . we are down here on stage now at the university of south florida . tonight's debate, as we said, comes at another crucial time in this ongoing gop primary fight. the florida primary now eight days away , and newt gingrich comes in here tonight with momentum coming off his win in south carolina . mitt romney is now on the defensive coming off his loss in south carolina . and he went after gingrich today by name, calling him a radic and failed leader and warning fellow problems about making gingrich their nominee. our political team is here and in place ready to cover what happens on this stage tonight. we begin with nbc's peter alexander with us here in tampa . good evening.

>> reporter: brian, good evening to you. tonight the stakes are particularly high, as you note, for mitt romney trying to rebound from that loss in south carolina . today, a senior campaign officials for romney said tonight's debate is going to be a contrast in character between romney and newt gingrich . romney is getting some help tonight from a top debate coach who four years ago advised john mccain . wounded by his defeat in south carolina , mitt romney has a new changed strategy. now directly attacking newt gingrich on several fronts.

>> he's gone from pillar to post almost like a pin ball machine, from item to item in a way which is highly e ly erratic which does no t have a stable course which normally is associated with leadership.

>> reporter: romney questioned whether gingrich broke the law during his time as a consultant and demanded the former house speaker release documents to shed light on his role at freddie mac .

>> people should know if there's going to be an october surprise . let's see the records from the investigation. let's see what they show. let's see who his clients were.

>> if you've been campaigning for six years and you begin to see it slip away , you get desperate. when you get desperate you say almost anything.

>> reporter: this evening, gingrich 's former consulting company announced its intentions to release those documents. romney launched his cam main's first negative ad.

>> while florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, newt gingrich cashed in.

>> reporter: romney 's new confrontational approach marks a dramatic shift to stay above the fray. rit

>> reporter: have you done a good job channelling above that anger?

>> i don't think we are a party of angry. we are upset with the president. he's taken the country in a wrong direction. we want someone who can lead our country and lead our partry.

>> reporter: gingrich earned the come-from-behind win in south carolina .

>> i am apuled.

>> reporter: as the battle returns to the debate stage, romney 's advisors see gingrich used the forum to his advantage. also on stage, ron paul and rick santorum . in an event today, santorum took a question from a woman who referred to obama as an avowed muslim and said he didn't have the right to be president. santorum responded to the question, but didn't correct the claim.

>> peter alexander with us in tampa tonight, thanks.