It was the final debate before the Iowa Caucus, making it perhaps the most important one of the campaign so far. Newt Gingrich has seen his numbers slip a little this week, so he tried to recapture his momentum. Meanwhile, this was the last chance for the lower tier candidates to find a game changing moment. This was the debate for closing arguments. Who delivered the best ones?
TheIowaRepublican.com live blogged the event. Here is a breakdown of how each candidate fared, in alphabetical order. The winners and losers are at the bottom of the page:
Michele Bachmann: The Minnesota congresswoman needed a strong debate and she delivered one. Bachmann won a head-to-head battle with Newt Gingrich on his work with Freddie Mac. Getting the better of Gingrich in a debate is quite the accomplishment. Bachmann also delivered the killshot on Ron Paul when discussing Iran’s nuclear program. “I have never heard a more dangerous answer,” she said.
Bachmann also went after Newt toward the end, when discussing abortion. She left him weakened on issues that are important to Iowa conservatives. Michele Bachmann was on the offensive throughout and it paid off. Some might have found her too aggressive, but I think she did exactly what she needed to do.
Newt Gingrich: The former House Speaker was on the defensive during much of the debate and I think it hurt him. He did not respond capably on Freddie Mac and abortion. That surprised me because I think Gingrich has dominated the debates more than any other candidate. He kept responding by saying Bachmann was “factually inaccurate”. I’m not sure he convinced people of that.
Other than his battles with Bachmann, it was a very good night for Newt. His response on the judiciary was phenomenal and allowed Gingrich to regain his footing. However, the memorable moment for me was Newt being dismantled by Bachmann on Freddie Mac. This was his worst debate of the campaign.
Jon Huntsman: He had the unintentionally funniest line of the night. “I am the consistent conservative.” No, you’re not.
Ron Paul: I predicted earlier in the day that Ron Paul would win the Iowa Caucus. After this performance, I frankly don’t know how anyone would want him to be Commander-in-Chief. The man twice admitted that he was to the left of Barack Obama on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. When you’re running for the GOP nomination and admitting you’re more of a lefty than Obama on anything, that spells trouble.
FNC kept hammering Paul on the Iran issue and then Michele Bachmann destroyed him. Paul delivered some good stuff in the first hour, particularly on GSE’s, but the Iran arguments overshadowed all of it. Overall, it was an awful night for the Texas congressman.
Rick Perry: The Texas governor was OK. He tried to latch onto Tebow Mania, which would be great if there was a Colorado Caucus on January 3. There isn’t. Perry really was not a factor in the debate. He had one really good answer on the part-time congress and the crowd in Sioux City ate it up. Otherwise, Perry was overshadowed.
Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor bounced back well from a tough debate last Saturday. His strategy was interesting, deciding not to go negative against Newt Gingrich. It was a wise move, because plenty of others did the dirty work for him. Romney delivered one of the best lines of the night, slamming Obama’s foreign policy. “This is a president, the spy drone being brought down, he says ‘pretty please?’ A foreign policy based on pretty please? You got to be kidding.”
He faced some tough grilling for his stances on life and gay marriage, but I think he handled them about as well as he could have. Plus, Romney’s past views on those issues are pretty well known. Overall, I think it was a pretty good night for Mitt Romney.
Rick Santorum: This was an enormous missed opportunity for Rick Santorum. FNC and Ron Paul created a perfect storm for Santorum to dismantle Paul’s left-wing stance on Iran. Substantively, everything Santorum said was great. But he failed on the delivery and allowed Michele Bachmann to sound stronger against Paul than Santorum did. Santorum has been out front on the Iran issue for a long time, but he allowed Bachmann to steal his thunder.
Santorum did hammer Mitt Romney strongly on allowing gay marriage in Massachusetts. He also provided good substance on most of his answers, but really nothing memorable.
Overall Winner: Michele Bachmann. She exposed some real flaws in the records and stances of two of her biggest opponents, Gingrich and Paul. Bachmann was throwing haymakers throughout and most of them landed.
Overall Loser: Ron Paul. “Yes.” That was his answer, twice, when being asked if he was to the left of President Obama. Enough said.
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