Six candidates took the stage at Drake University on Saturday for the next to last debate before the Iowa Caucus. It was perhaps the most important candidate forum of the campaign so far. All the candidates hoped to slow the runaway momentum of new frontrunner Newt Gingrich. They tried. Did anyone succeed?
TheIowaRepublican.com live blogged the event. Here is a look at how each candidate fared, in alphabetical order. Winners and losers are at the bottom:
Michele Bachmann: The Minnesota congresswoman coined a new term: “Newt Romney”. It was smart to lump the two frontrunners together so she could attack both at the same time. Bachmann also opened and closed by pandering to the Herman Cain supporters. The “9-9-9” plan that she attacked when Cain was in the lead was suddenly a great idea. This reeked of desperation. Doing it once was bad enough, but twice was ridiculous.
Bachmann also tried to make the case that she’s the only “constitutional conservative” on the stage, but Rick Santorum got the better of that exchange by pointing out he had actually accomplished stuff. Overall, it was a mixed bag for Bachmann.
Newt Gingrich: The new frontrunner has shined in every single debate and needed to continue that string here. He did. Gingrich was under almost constant fire, but handled himself capably. He got the better of an early exchange with Romney, basically called Bachmann a liar when she attacked him, and stood his ground when grilled on the Palestinians are an “invented” people comment. Seeming too strong in your support of Israel will not hurt you in a GOP primary.
Gingrich also handled the question about his past infidelities very well, by admitting he made mistakes. The former House Speaker had another strong debate and secured his spot at the top of the polls.
Ron Paul: What can I say? It was standard Ron Paul fare. If you agree with him, you liked his performance. If you disagree, you didn’t. He slammed Gingrich on Freddie Mac, which was a good idea, but Newt was able to swat the attack away. Paul did earn praise from two other candidates for pointing out the issues with the Federal Reserve. That is at least a moral victory for the Texas congressman.
Rick Perry: The Texas governor had some strong moments in this debate. He raised a good point about trustworthiness when discussing marital infidelity, an attack clearly aimed at Gingrich. Perry’s answer on payroll taxes and paying for Social Security was very strong. He ran into a bit of a buzzsaw when slamming Romney on the individual mandate, because Perry’s Gardasil mandate was revisited.
However, I thought Perry gave a fantastic answer about Gingrich’s Palestinian comments. While the rest of the field struggled to take a side, Perry said, “I think this is a minor issue that the media is blowing way out of proportion.” He then capably ripped President Obama’s foreign policy. It might have been Perry’s finest moment in this campaign. Overall, this was a very good performance. It’s too bad for him that it’s probably too little, too late.
Mitt Romney: This performance will be remembered for Romney’s $10,000 bet offer to Rick Perry. Trying to defend against claims he supported an individual healthcare mandate, Romney made the bet that will likely backfire on him. Republican and Democratic opponents immediately seized on the comment by painting Romney as someone who walks around with $10,000 in his pocket.
Newt got the better of Mitt in their exchanges. Romney needed a strong performance Saturday and to do something to halt Gingrich’s momentum. He failed on both accounts and did more harm than good for his campaign.
Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania senator shined in the rare instances he was given to speak. Santorum was able to praise and dissect Michele Bachmann, while touting his own record, in one fell swoop. He congratulated her for being a “consistent conservative. But, she’s been fighting and losing. I fought and won.”
Santorum once again steered questions about the economy back to the break down of the family unit, using language that will win him points among social conservatives in Iowa. Overall, it was a good performance when given time, but that did not happen very often.
Overall Winner: Once again, it was Newt Gingrich. He swatted away numerous attacks and solidified his frontrunner status.
Overall Loser: Mitt Romney. The $10,000 bet comment will backfire and he failed to slow Gingrich’s momentum. The GOP nomination is starting to slip away from Romney’s grasp.
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