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February 22nd, 2012

Arizona GOP Presidential Debate Recap, Winners and Losers

It was the first debate in almost a month and perhaps the last debate of the GOP primary. All eyes were on Rick Santorum, the latest candidate to surge to the top. That means he was the target of other candidates. How did he handle the criticisms from the rest of the field?

Here is a look at how each candidate fared, followed by winners and losers at the bottom of the article:

Newt Gingrich: Following bad performances in the last two debates, the former House Speaker needed to regain his mojo in this one. Newt succeeded. His answers were sharp and crisp. He capably pivoted many of his statements to the failures of the Obama administration. His answer about working with the governors of the border states was spot-on, and earned kudos from Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.

Gingrich did a better job at defending earmarks than Rick Santorum did, although it was Santorum being criticized. Newt needed a strong showing and he delivered one. He seemed to receive a little less time than the others, but did very well with the time allotted.

Ron Paul: I think this was a mostly good night for the Texas Congressman. He battered Rick Santorum several times in the first hour and thanks to the dual attacks on the other side from Mitt Romney, Paul often got the better of Santorum.

It was irritating when Paul kept referring to “politicians” and blaming everything on Congress, when he is the only congressman or current office holder on the stage. However, I thought Paul came across as amiable and was helped by a friendly audience.

Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor took the fight to Rick Santorum early and often. He needed to do it, and for the most part, Romney succeeded. Hammering Santorum for his support of Arlen Specter and reminding people that Santorum called Romney “the conservative” choice four years ago were smart moves. Santorum had a difficult time explaining them.

The one negative on the night for Romney was the very last question. Moderator John King asked each candidate to talk about one misconception. Romney started giving reasons to vote for him, and when King interrupted to try to keep him on topic, Romney responded that he would answer the questions however he wanted to. It came across as arrogant. A common perception is that Romney is elitist, and instead of dispelling a misconception, he proved the detractors right. Other than that final moment, it was a good night for Romney.

Rick Santorum: The latest candidate to rise to the front of the pack needed a good debate performance to make sure he stayed there. He did not get it. Santorum got hammered by Paul and Romney repeatedly, especially in the first hour. The former Pennsylvania senator had probably his worst debate of the campaign. He was forced to try to explain his support of earmarks, No Child Left Behind, Arlen Specter, and voting for bills that gave money to Planned Parenthood. He even had to fend off being called a “fake” conservative by Ron Paul. Santorum does not speak in soundbites. He is too verbose and that hurt him in this debate. Santorum’s responses were not strong enough to deflect the criticisms.

He was also hurt by constant booing by a few loud supporters of other candidates in the studio audience. Although they were likely plants from rival campaigns, and frankly, should have been admonished by debate organizers, the booing was noticeable on television and hurt the perception of Santorum by people viewing at home. Altogether, it was a tough night for Rick Santorum and one that will probably hurt him in the polls.

Winner: Newt Gingrich. It might not be enough to provide a big momentum boost, but Gingrich provided the best answers throughout.

Loser: Rick Santorum. The dual attacks from Paul and Romney kept Santorum on the defensive throughout. Every questionable part of Santorum’s record was dissected and he failed to strongly defend the attacks. Santorum will lose some of his momentum following this performance.

About the Author

Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor's office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad's 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for

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