It was another chance for the candidates to try to take down frontrunner Rick Perry on national television. Several candidates attempted to seize the opportunity. Perry was wounded in the previous debate. Could he staunch the bleeding Thursday night?
Here are my thoughts on how each candidate fared and the overall winners and losers:
Michele Bachmann: The Minnesota congresswoman faded into the background after a strong performance last week. Her answers were OK, but there were a few fumbles. Bachmann claimed President Obama’s approval ratings are the lowest in modern history, when they haven’t even come close to George W. Bush levels yet.
Bachmann had a chance to revise or apologize for her false information about Gardisil causing mental retardation. She refused, but pivoted the issue back to Perry’s mandate. Turning it back on Perry was good, but the misstatement still stands. I don’t think Bachmann gained any ground with this performance.
Herman Cain: It was his best performance since the first debate back in May. Cain’s responses were very well received from the audience. The moderators gave him an assist by mentioning his cancer survival. Of the candidates who answered the running mate question, Cain’s name was mentioned most often. He also finally went on the offensive by criticizing Mitt Romney’s tax plan, but lost points for then naming Romney as his most likely VP pick. Overall, it was a good night for the Georgia businessman.
Newt Gingrich: The former U.S. House Speaker once again showed he is the best debater in the field. He is simply masterful at answering questions. Gingrich speaks with clarity and substance. If only his campaign was as strong as his debate performances.
Jon Huntsman: He scrapped the lame jokes. That was good. This might have been Huntsman’s best performance, which isn’t saying much. The former Utah governor lost a verbal sparring match with Rick Santorum and was lost in the shuffle for much of the debate.
Gary Johnson: The former New Mexico governor had the best line of the night by talking about his neighbor’s dog creating more shovel-ready jobs than Obama. That was the only highlight from a guy who frankly, does not belong on the stage.
Ron Paul: Ron Paul’s pro-life bona fides took a major hit in this debate. He says government should not regulate the morning after pill. The pro-life movement will strongly disagree with him. Paul hurt himself with social conservatives with that answer. Due to that alone, this debate was a negative for Dr. Paul.
Rick Perry: Two weeks ago, the Texas governor was running away with this race. That is no longer the case. Perry was once again weakened by his debate performance. He seemed desperate to go on the offensive against Mitt Romney, but struggled to find the right words and the crowd reacted negatively. Perry’s Texas swagger is not coming across on the debate stage. If he does not come across stronger in the next round of debates, Perry’s lead in the polls will dissipate.
Mitt Romney: This might have been Romney’s best debate performance of this cycle. He looked and sounded presidential and won the verbal sparring match with Perry. Romney is very adept at the political art of spinning and often able to overcome his policy weaknesses in debates by giving solid responses. Electability is an issue with many GOP voters and in this debate and Mitt Romney appeared the most electable.
Rick Santorum: Another outstanding performance from the former Pennsylvania senator. He completely dismantled Rick Perry’s reasoning for granting in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. Santorum gave strong, substantive answers and received huge applause from the crowd on several occasions. His poll numbers do not reflect it, but Rick Santorum is one of the best debaters in the field. He showed it Thursday night.
Overall Winner(s): Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Romney won his verbal battles with Rick Perry and looked more presidential between the two. Santorum received great reaction from the crowd to his answers and dismantled Rick Perry on in-state tuition for illegals. Romney and Santorum helped their campaigns the most Thursday night.
Overall Loser: Rick Perry. He struggled verbally. His criticisms of Romney fell flat and reeked of desperation. The audience actually booed his attacks more than once. The Texas governor was further weakened by criticisms from Santorum and Bachmann. Perry’s frontrunner status is in danger.
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