When Gingrich did go on the attack, he led with Romney’s elusive tax returns and the  of his personal empire via Bain Capital, but Romney quickly countered that he would “not apologize” for his earned success, citing Staples as a prime example of a company he helped start which led to the creation of 90,000 jobs.

Santorum threw a punch at both Gingrich and Romney by saying, “If you guys believe in capitalism so much, then why did you support the bailout of Wall Street?” Then he brought it home by blaming the bailout for the protracted recession in Florida (Ah – well played, young apprentice).

Even so, spectators were sparing in their applause and no one really got that big home run sound bite that usually occurs. Florida’s continued high unemployment and foreclosure rates came up but weren’t addressed to the degree that many Florida voters might have liked.

As he often does, Ron Paul offered some insightful moments of clarity by assigning blame for the economic crisis on the Federal Reserve, TARP funding and general government power bloat.

Then the group played “nice” for a while, each pitching their views on a host of topics, taking the heat off of each other and focusing it on Obama. The candidates agreed on the needed repeal of Dodd-Frank, offered opinions on Iran and answered hypotheticals as to what each would do as president if Castro finally died.

Coming out of Florida’s first of two pre-primary debates, the main message is that for the moment Gingrich and Romney are the front-runners to catch. That’s quite a coup for Gingrich, considering the Romney is outspending him by tens of millions of dollars in the Sunshine State.

The next debate is scheduled for this Thursday, January 26th at 8p.m. Eastern time on CNN.