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McCain: Send Gingrich to the moon, Romney to the White House

PETERBOROUGH, NH - JANUARY 04: Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) and former presidential nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) hold a campaign town hall meeting at the Peterborough Town House January 4, 2012 in Peterborough, New Hampshire. McCain announced his endorsement of Romney the day after Romney beat former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum by only eight votes in Tuesday's 'first in the nation' Iowa Caucuses. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Sen. John McCain on Friday used a pointed quip to mock Newt Gingrich's plan to construct a permanent American base on the moon. "I think we ought to send Newt Gingrich to the moon and Mitt Romney to the White House," he said.

Speaking to about 75 people at a Romney office here, the Arizona Republican also said the GOP presidential debates have "deteriorated into mud-wrestling" and said they should come to an end.

Thursday night's CNN debate was the 19th debate of the primary season and the last until Feb. 22. McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee, called Romney's performance Thursday "a home run" and predicted it would give Romney the momentum to carry Florida on Tuesday and win the nomination.

McCain had earlier sought to downplay debate performance in favor of record, citing Gingrich's earmarks and pork-barrel spending during his time as House speaker. Asked by National Journal/CBS News on Friday whether his focus on Gingrich means he's a threat to Romney, McCain said it's more to do with a lack of threat elsewhere.

"I think it's very likely that it's a two-person race," he said. "I think it's pretty clear that Ron Paul has reached a ceiling as he did in 2008. In the case of Rick Santorum, he was defeated in his own state by some 18 points in his bid for reelection. That's not the kind of credentials that people need, I think, for a winning candidate."

Asked by an attendee to predict Romney's choice of a vice presidential running mate, McCain invoked his signature "Straight Talk Express" campaign bus gave an answer that he knew would be catnip to Florida voters.

"A little straight talk?" he replied. "Marco Rubio."

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