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Tribune editorial: GOP candidates continue to battle

Republican presidential candidates continue to battle this weekend in advance of the pivotal Florida primary. Floridians can expect to have the candidates' full attention through Tuesday's primary.

Some are concerned the tumultuous competition of the Republican nomination race is harming the GOP's chances to win in November. It is a long time to the presidential election and the eventual Republican candidate will have plenty of time to refine and carry his election campaign message to the American public.

The Republican nomination process will play a role in choosing the right candidate to carry the party's message in the fall campaign. This nomination battle will only help strengthen the eventual nominee's campaign and debate skills, which will be needed in a presidential campaign that is expected to be intense and bruising.

After three different winners in the early Republican nomination contests, this battle is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are battling for the front-runner mantle in the Republican nomination race, with Rick Santorum and Ron Paul left with a race for third place. Some polls in recent days have shown Romney with a single-digit lead and others indicate Gingrich holds a single-digit lead.

Following his South Carolina win, Gingrich's campaign is feeling the heat as GOP opponents sharpen their attacks and strategies. His debate performance this week has not been as successful in Florida as it was in South Carolina. He was off his debate game, especially when he again questioned a moderator's question about an issue that Gingrich himself had first raised earlier in the week.

Romney has refocused his campaign's message and brought in a new debate coach. This helped improve Romney's performance in the Florida debates this week. He has stayed on the offensive this week, instead of the frontrunner posture he has taken in previous primaries. He quickly responded successfully to direct attacks from Gingrich.

Santorum and Paul are basically sitting on the outside looking in as Romney and Gingrich battle for the frontrunner role. Yet, Paul had one of the best lines in Thursday night's debate when he said, "I don't think we should go to the moon; I think we should send some politicians up there."

With no further debates scheduled in Florida this weekend, the candidates will strive to carry their message to the voters. The ad wars will continue as Super PACs strive to support and/or attack various candidates.

The Florida primary fight is one to watch. Certainly Tuesday's winner will gain momentum, but the nomination battle will continue in the coming weeks in Arizona and other states.

Stay tuned.