The biggest factor in the GOP presidential race so far has been the debates. Candidates have seized and lost momentum based entirely on their debate performances. The latest surge is from Herman Cain after a solid outing in Florida last month. Two poor showings from Rick Perry erased him from frontrunner status.
The candidates once again had a chance to seize momentum as they took the stage in New Hampshire Tuesday night for a Bloomberg debate.
Here is a breakdown of how each candidate fared:
Michele Bachmann – Overall, I thought the Minnesota congresswoman had a solid performance. Her answers were substantive and she took the chance to poke holes in Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” plan. Bachmann’s closing remarks were probably more personable and heartfelt than the rest of the field. Bachmann needed a good performance and she got one. I don’t think it was a game changer though.
Herman Cain – The surging candidate was his usual affable self, showing humor and giving great lines. Cain seemingly has decided to live and die on his “9-9-9” plan and must have repeated the number a dozen times during the debate. Almost every answer went back to it. That plan has helped lead him to the front of the pack, but now that other candidates are pointing out its flaws, it could also bring him back down. Overall, Cain did well, but it will be interesting to see if there is any fallout as people look closer at what Cain is proposing.
Newt Gingrich – When given time to speak, Gingrich was great as usual. Unfortunately for him, he was rarely given the time to speak and had to interject himself into the conversation on more than one occasion. Newt directs all his shots at Obama and the media. That might help him get a cabinet position, but will not help him win the nomination.
Jon Huntsman – More lame one-liners and sprayed-on tan from the former Obama appointee.
Ron Paul – This debate served Paul well since it focused on economics and didn’t touch on his foreign policy views that differ from a lot of Republicans. He went on the attack against Herman Cain for his stances and prior employment with the Fed. He also belittled Cain’s praise of Alan Greenspan. Paul was a little more focused than he usually seems and had a decent performance.
Rick Perry – The Texas governor needed to bounce back from his previous lackluster performances. He failed to do so. Someone needs to light a fire under this guy. He shows less enthusiasm in the debates than Fred Thompson did four years ago. And Thompson at least had plenty of substance.
Perry’s strategy seemed to focus on energy independence, as he repeated that point several times. There were a couple of signs of life, but they were few and far between. Perry desperately needed to reinvigorate his campaign with this debate. He didn’t do it.
Mitt Romney – It was the Mitt Romney Show. He completely dominated the time and might have gotten more minutes than the rest of the field combined. Romney was smooth and polished. He handled the questioning very well, even on touchy issues like Romneycare.
The rest of the field played right into his hands. When given the chance to ask questions of the rest of the field, several chose Romney, giving him even more time. Romney wisely directed his question at Michele Bachmann, who he does not view as a threat. Terry Branstad employed this same strategy in last year’s gubernatorial primary, instead of giving Bob Vander Plaats more face time, Branstad lobbed a softball at Rod Roberts. It’s smart debating. Romney is playing chess, while the rest of the field is playing checkers.
Rick Santorum – The former Pennsylvania senator is the attack dog in the GOP debates. He uses his opportunities to poke holes in his opponents’ records and did a solid job tearing down Cain’s “9-9-9” plan. Santorum did well in the time he was allotted, which wasn’t much.
Overall Winner – Mitt Romney. He completely dominated the time and handled the questioning very smoothly. Hours after receiving Chris Christie’s endorsement, Romney capped off a very good day for his campaign by shining in the debate.
Overall Loser – Rick Perry. The freefall continues.
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