With the most recent CNN/TIME/ORC poll showing Florida a tight contest between Republican frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, tonight's final Florida debate (8 p.m. ET on CNN) could be decisive. As OutFront contributor John Avlon writes, "the fact that there is a risk involved in debates just reflects the real stakes of the race for the most powerful job on earth. Tuesday night's debate will be the last one for almost a month."
Debate moderator Wolf Blitzer says this year's series of debates may be some of the most important in memory. "Tonight’s debate will be the 19th. Millions of people are watching and learning and making final voting decisions. And that’s the way it should be."
Romney and Gingrich know how high the stakes are. For Romney, a loss in Florida could be a significant wound–perhaps even fatal–to his chances of ultimately winning the nomination. Romney told a group in Jacksonville he will focus Thursday night on President Obama, but he'll also spend a significant amount of time making the case to Florida voters that a vote for Gingrich could cost the GOP the election in the Fall. "There may be some give and take," Romney hinted.
Romney's supporters, however, were far more blistering in their attacks:
Former GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole released a statement through the Romney campaign characterizing Gingrich as erratic, unreliable and certain to lead the Republican Party to defeat in November.
For his part, Gingrich called attacks on his record "the desperate last stand of the old order throwing the kitchen sink, hoping something sinks."
CNN's coverage of the Florida debate begins with a live edition of Erin Burnett OutFront, from Jacksonville, at 7 p.m. ET.