Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich tangled early, with Romney accusing Gingrich of far-fetched ideas such as mining minerals on the moon.
Romney said the bigger difference is that he offers decades of experience as a private-sector executive, while Gingrich was a Washington insider.
"Speaker Gingrich has been in government for a long time. . I spent my life in the private sector. I understand how the economy works," Romney said.
"Let's be candid," Gingrich fired back. "The only reason you didn't become a career politician is because you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994," he said, when Romney lost a Senate bid. "You'd have been a 17-year career politician by now if you'd won."
Romney tried to turn that notion around.
"If I would have been able to get into the NFL (National Football League) like I wanted to when I was a kid, I'd have been a football star. . Losing to Teddy Kennedy was probably the best thing I could have done for the job I'm seeking," he said. "It put me back in the private sector." That got applause.
— McClatchy Newspapers, the Associated Press