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Gingrich testy in South Carolina debate

  • Former Speaker of the House gets testy with CNN's John King
  • Romney: 'I'm not going to apologize for being successful'
  • Santorum, Paul look to win some of Perry's supporters

In Thursday night's CNN-Southern Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich came out swinging, not at other candidates, but at the media.

Appearing visibly angry, Gingrich took CNN’s John King to task for opening the debate with a question about the explosive allegation by the former Speaker of the House's ex-wife that he wanted an "open marriage."

“Would you like to take some time to address that?” King said.

Read more: Gingrich's ex-wife says he wanted 'open marriage'

“No. But I will,” Gingrich said to wild applause.

“I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate with a topic like that,” he said to sustained approval from the audience. “To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question in a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”

It was the opening salvo in a wide-ranging, at-times contentious, debate that capped a day that saw former tea party favorite Rick Perry withdraw from the race.

Rick Santorum, seeming revitalized with results released Thursday that confirmed he had indeed won the Iowa caucuses, honed in on several perceived flaws of his rivals. Challenging former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's plans for the nation, he took aim at "Romneycare," which he said "was not a bottom-up, free-market system. It was a government-run health care system that was the basis of Obamacare. It has been an abject failure. And he has stood by it.”

Romney, the GOP front-runner before the debate, continued to ward off attacks about his personal finances and time at the helm of Bain Capital. He caught a little flak from the crowd when he said that he may or may not release his tax returns. “I know the Democrats want to go after the fact that I’ve been successful. I’m not going to apologize for being successful," he said.

Ron Paul brought one of the night's lighter moments when he said that he had no intention of releasing his tax returns. “Well I hadn’t thought it through. I don’t have an intention of doing it but for a different reason: I’d probably be embarrassed to put my financial statement up against their income,” he said to applause.

Santorum continued a strong debate performance in the primaries. He attacked Gingrich for being a loose cannon. “Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich. He handles it very, very well. I don’t want a nominee that I have to worry about going out to look in the paper the next day and worrying about what he’s going to say next,” he said.

Gingrich shot back, “I think grandiose thoughts. This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things and we need leadership prepared to take on big projects."

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