After engineering one of the greatest political comebacks the week before in South Carolina, capped by a stunningly large victory in the state’s GOP primary, Newt Gingrich has uncharacteristically stumbled this week as he heads into Tuesday’s important Florida vote.

Gingrich who has proclaimed that he is the best debater and showed both his debate political skills last Thursday when he turned a potentially embarrassing question on his second marriage into an attack on CNN’s John King and the mainstream media has had a week only slightly better than Mitt Romney’s bad South Carolina week.

In the first Florida debate this week on Monday night, NBC’s Brian Williams, took away one of Gingrich’s best weapons when he silenced the crowd before the debate began, which led to a rather dull session and the normally fiery Gingrich acting and looking like a neutered puppy.

And just like Romney who had a bad first debate in South Carolina and followed it up with an almost equally bad second debate, Gingrich’s performance last night was disappointing as he failed to land any significant punches at Romney.

Gingrich did try for a “John King moment” with CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer, but Blitzer is no patsy and rather than play Newt’s game continued to press the former Speaker and gained the upper hand.

Newt has had other problems in Florida, including the removal of an ad that called Romney “anti-immigrant” after Sen. Marco Rubio complained about the ad.

Gingrich also lost on his argument that Romney had sizable investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which Romney explained were mostly through mutual funds and pointed out that Gingrich also had investments in these same companies in funds he owned.

This isn’t to say that Romney had smooth sailing during the debates this week, but overall his combativeness seemed to put Newt into more of a defensive crouch and I expect that the next set of polls that will be taken to reflect last night’s debate will show the momentum has shifted back to Romney as a critical time in the campaign.

Rick Santorum may have had said it best when he asked Gingrich and Romney to call off the personal attacks and get to the issues.

Until they do, Obama and the DNC can sit back and watch the sideshow that has become the GOP presidential race.

The GOP presidential primary debates which had been building a pretty good head of steam in the ratings last year, started to show signs of viewer fatigue this year until Monday’s NBC debate reversed the decline.

Conservatives and other observers had criticized the debate for the slow plodding pace and the questions that were asked in the second hour that covered subjects that had little or no national importnace at a time when the economy and jobs are foremost on voters minds.

Yet despite the complaints and my own prediction that the debate would continue the downtrend in the ratings, it turns out NBC attracted one of the largest audiences to date and shattered the previous high in the key A25-54 demo by a wide margin.

Initial ratings show that 7.1 million viewers tuned in to watch Brian Williams grill the remaining GOP candidates ranking 2nd only behind the ABC debate on December 10 of last year in the current cycle.  Even better for NBC were the nearly 2.6 million viewers in the key A25-54 demo that advertisers crave, easily beating the previous high of 2.1 million set by ABC.

While the format was a little different- Williams had in essence silenced the audience, NBC benefited greatly from Newt Gingrich’s stunning South Carolina primary victory last week which turned the GOP race into a fierce fight.

It also didn’t hurt that Gingrich had a very successful debate last Thursday, when he blasted CNN’s John King for starting the debate off with a question about his second wife’s charges that Newt wanted an “open marriage” which raised the roof and may have raised the hopes of those watching on Monday that Gingrich would take a similar stab at Brian Williams.

But it didn’t happen and instead viewers were treated to one of the worst debates of the election cycle.

Yet with those ratings NBC isn’t about to complain.

During Monday night’s GOP debate in South Carolina, Twitter asked viewers to vote on whether or not candidates answered or dodged the questions they were asked.

Here are the results from the Twitter blog.

Newt Gingrich
After a slow start and a net #dodge rating for an answer on his recent attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, Gingrich elicited strong #answer ratings for much of the remainder of the debate. His highest #answer peaks came during his comments on unemployment and his reply to Juan Williams about characterizing President Obama as a “food stamp President.”

Mitt Romney
While generating the highest total volume of Tweets among the candidates, Romney spent most of the debate with net Twitter user reaction firmly in #dodge territory. The former Massachusetts governor’s explanation for not releasing his tax records generated the most significant #dodge reaction, but Romney scored #answer ratings for his replies on Medicare and Social Security reform and his refusal to negotiate with the Taliban.

Rick Perry’s biggest Twitter reaction came right at the end of the debate, as Twitter users rewarded him by noting #answer for his response to a question on immigration.

Users tweeted that Rick Santorum’s biggest #dodge of the night was in his answers to questions on gun control, but they applauded his answers on employment.

Ron Paul saw his most significant number of #dodge votes in answers around foreign policy

This wasn’t a scientific analysis since it relied on Twitter users and they can be notoriously fickle, but it was an interesting engagement device to keep users tweeting above and beyond the normal banter that occurs during a debate.