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    Political Notebook

    Newt Gingrich says debate rules too restrictive

    Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich met with supporters during an event at the Cambier Park Bandstand.
    Matt Rourke/Associated Press
    Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich met with supporters during an event at the Cambier Park Bandstand.

    TAMPA, Fla. - Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said yesterday that he doesn’t want to continue debating his Republican rivals if the audience isn’t allowed to participate. His campaign said later that he would participate in upcoming debates, regardless of the audience rules.

    Gingrich, whose rise in the polls and come-from-behind victory in the South Carolina followed well-received debate performances, complained that people were admonished by NBC News anchor and debate moderator Brian Williams not to applaud during Monday night’s debate in Tampa. The candidates are scheduled to debate tomorrow night in Jacksonville, Fla.

    “That’s wrong,’’ the former House speaker told Fox News. “The media doesn’t control free speech. People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to. It was almost silly.’’

    Disagreeing with his rival, Mitt Romney told reporters that the rules for general-election debates are much stricter and that Gingrich would have to be willing to follow the rules of the Presidential Debate Commission.

    “He better learn to debate in all settings,’’ Romney said.

    Romney’s advisers believe that audience participation drove Gingrich’s breakout moments in two debates in South Carolina. They were pleased with the audience reaction during Monday night’s debate, calling it more serious than the raucous crowds at the second South Carolina debate.

    Gingrich was an audience favorite at the two debates in South Carolina, particularly when he admonished debate moderator John King of CNN for bringing up ex-wife Marianne Gingrich and her allegation that Gingrich had sought an “open marriage’’ as he was having an affair with the woman who is now his wife, Callista. Audience members cheered Gingrich’s criticism of King as well as some of his policy statements.

    Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who was the GOP’s nominee in 2008, said yesterday that he thinks debates have had an inordinate influence, and at times a negative one, on the primary campaign. McCain is supporting Romney’s bid for the nomination.

    “It’s very harmful to Republicans because of instead of presenting their views, their policies and their proposals - it’s all gotcha, it’s all gotcha,’’ McCain said. “And disapproval ratings go up.’’ - ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Before resigning, Giffords takes her seat in House

    WASHINGTON - In a bittersweet farewell, Representative Gabrielle Giffords accepted bags of chocolates and a big presidential hug as she claimed her seat in the House of Representatives last night.

    Giffords, who has regained much of her ability to speak and walk after a gunshot wound to the head Jan. 8, 2011, will leave Congress this week to focus on her recovery. But first, she wanted to attend the State of the Union she was forced to miss last year in the uncertain days after the shooting.

    Just before President Obama was to speak, Giffords quietly entered the chamber and walked the few steps to a seat that had been reserved for her. Hug number one came from friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida. Giffords’s colleagues stood and gently applauded her.

    Limping a little, Giffords beamed around the chamber and raised her left hand to wave. Representative Louis Gohmert, a Texas Republican, approached with two bags of chocolate, which Giffords took, smiling.

    The president swooped in with a big bear hug around Giffords, grinning widely.

    She is expected today to vote on one last bill, a measure she coauthored to impose tougher penalties on smugglers who use small, low-flying aircraft to avoid radar detection and bring drugs across the Mexican border. - ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Kerry absorbs shot, but not of the political variety

    WASHINGTON - In the august arena of the House as his president cajoled lawmakers from both parties to work together in the coming months, Senator John F. Kerry’s face bore the marks of a nasty collision.

    The injuries came in a completely nonpartisan setting, however. The Massachusetts Democrat broke his nose and received two black eyes when he was hit with an errant hockey stick in a pickup game.

    The result was first seen when Kerry, 68, joined President Obama in heralding the Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup season at the White House on Monday. As reported in the Globe yesterday, Kerry’s office said the pair of shiners and busted nose were sustained during a game with friends and family over the holidays.

    Kerry is apparently used to the rough stuff. He has been playing the sport for decades, his office said. - GLOBE STAFF