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The Takeaway: Final GOP Debate Before 'Super Tuesday'

Annnnd one last time ... Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum took to the stage last night for the final GOP primary debate  (this makes 20 of them, but who's counting?) of the 2012 election season. The next time one of these four men is debating before the nation, it will be against President Barack Obama. Of course, going into Arizona and Michigan's primaries next Tuesday and the series of presidential primaries known as  Super Tuesday (10 states will cast ballots) on Tuesday, March 6, which Republican candidate that might be is still uncertain.

And what about the debate last night-did we learn anything scintillating or new? Not particularly. Romney, Paul and Gingrich used the opportunity to attack newly anointed front-runner Santorum-he's usurped Gingrich as Romney's chief rival, and polls show Santorum leading the race nationally and in several states-about spending in his home state and support for Congressional earmarks. Time's Swampland blog probably has the best summary of how this portion went:

Here is a typical exchange: "Attached to a bill? Attached to a bill?" asks Romney. "As part of the bill. Congressman Paul..." says Santorum. "And the president can't veto it?" asks Romney. "He can veto the bill," says Santorum. "The whole bill, but he can't veto the earmark?" asks Romney. "Well, we tried to do that, by the way. I supported a line-item veto," says Santorum. "That's what I support. That's what I support," says Romney. "Hold on. Hold on," says Santorum. Democracy in action.

Santorum and Romney were the only ones to (briefly) mention Social Security or Medicare; both also said that repealing 'Obamacare' would save the U.S. trillions.  According to the New York Times' politics blog, these savings projections are exaggerations:

Mr. Santorum said repealing the health care insurance law that President Obama signed in 2010 would reduce the deficit. His rival Mr. Romney has repeatedly made the same claim in debates and repeatedly been judged incorrect.

Going into the debate yesterday, Romney introduced his "Restore America's Promise" plan, which calls for raising the Social Security eligibility age for younger people; indexing growth in benefits to inflation instead of wages for wealthy retirees; creating a Medicare voucher system; tax cuts for individuals and corporations; and eliminating the inheritance and Alternative Minimum taxes. Romney's announcement came the same day President Obama released his business tax plan, which would cut the corporate tax rate from 35 to 28 percent and eliminate certain tax loopholes.

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Photo: Jack Kurtz/

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