Cheers or no cheers: Applause a debate issue

Fla. debate a 2-man show between Romney, Gingrich
Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich went head to head in the latest Republican presidential debate, held at the University of Florida, in Tampa, Jan. 23, 2012.

Applause during the State of the Union address seems to come as often as a period at the end of each sentence.

There were roughly 80 applause breaks in President Obama's speech Tuesday and those audible outbursts can be a vital tool. Just ask Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, whose success in harnessing the power of the audience, when he attacked CNN host John King for opening last Thursday's debate with a question about his ex-wife's allegations that he wanted an open marriage, helped fuel his surge in South Carolina last week.

Complete Coverage: State of the Union 2012

So when the rules at Monday's NBC-hosted debate forbade that kind of audience participation, it changed the dynamic.

"I think it matters to the television audience at home, which is what really matters in this discussion, because people sitting in their living rooms get an emotional charge from what the audience in the hall is reacting [to]. And so you get caught up in it, the spirit of it," Michael Shanahan of George Washington University said.

(Watch Bob Schieffer's take on debate applause and the State of the Union at left.)

"We're going to serve notice on future debates. We're just not going to allow that to happen. That's wrong. The media doesn't control free speech. People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to. It was almost silly," the former House speaker said on Fox News.

Romney camp mocks Gingrich for debate complaints

Rival Mitt Romney's campaign felt differently, sending around an old 1996 cover of the New York Daily News calling Gingrich a crybaby.

General elections debates are also applause free, so should Gingrich go that far, he'll have to draw his energy from somewhere else.

For Whit Johnson's full report, watch the video player above.