Could The Crowd At The Final GOP Debate Make The Difference In Florida Vote?

Newt Gingrich greets supporters during a rally at Wings Plus in Coral Springs, Fla., on Jan. 25. The GOP candidates meet in Jacksonville Thursday night for a final debate before Tuesday's primary. i i

hide captionNewt Gingrich greets supporters during a rally at Wings Plus in Coral Springs, Fla., on Jan. 25. The GOP candidates meet in Jacksonville Thursday night for a final debate before Tuesday's primary.

Carline Jean/MCT/Landov
Newt Gingrich greets supporters during a rally at Wings Plus in Coral Springs, Fla., on Jan. 25. The GOP candidates meet in Jacksonville Thursday night for a final debate before Tuesday's primary.

Newt Gingrich greets supporters during a rally at Wings Plus in Coral Springs, Fla., on Jan. 25. The GOP candidates meet in Jacksonville Thursday night for a final debate before Tuesday's primary.

Carline Jean/MCT/Landov

As the Republican presidential hopefuls head into their final televised confrontation Thursday night at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville (at 8 p.m. EST on CNN), NPR's Ari Shapiro reports that the debate could sway the outcome of the close race.

The latest polls show that Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are basically tied in Florida. And, Shapiro says, "Each has different advantages here. Newt Gingrich has been winning over more voters ever since he took South Carolina last weekend. Mitt Romney seems to have the advantage in early voting. And his campaign has the money to buy more ads than Gingrich in Florida's expensive media markets."

At this debate, which will also include Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, CNN will allow the audience to cheer and applaud, The New York Times reports.

After a subdued performance before a quiet crowd in Tampa earlier this week, former House Speaker Gingrich had threatened to sit out any future debates that did not allow audience response.

But that, writes the Times' Jeremy Peters, "raised another question altogether: Does the roar of an exercised crowd distract from the real and weighty task at hand — selecting the best candidate for president — by encouraging candidates to play for applause lines?"

On Thursday's Morning Edition, conservative writer David Frum echoed that sentiment in an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep,

"Gingrich has very powerfully expressed a lot of emotions and resentments and frustrations that a lot of Republican voters feel," said Frum, a Romney supporter. "But he doesn't have the organization to turn those feelings into an actual capture of the nomination and a capture of the presidency."

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