With this being the first debate with Newt Gingrich atop the polls, the cognoscenti were primed for a coordinated attack against him by the other five debaters. (Jon Huntsman didn’t choose to participate). Newt is very good at this, and was able to swat away the few fastballs thrown at his chin and looked like he was very comfortable in the frontrunner role.
Mitt Romney (notwithstanding his $10,000 bet with Perry) took a while to get into his rhythm but once he did he had the effect of reminding people this is a two person race. Romney’s answer on not having grown up poor might have been his best of the night. It sounded like it came from his heart, not from his briefing book.
Michelle Bachmann, on the heels of her excellent foreign policy debate performance, was unafraid to insert herself into the process dubbing Romney and Gingrich “Newt Romney” to make her point they were two of a kind. She’s still stuck on the end lectern, but she got into, and stayed in, the game.
Rick Santorum may surprise us in Iowa. He has spent so much time there his answers sounded far less urgent and more comfortable in answering the questions. Maybe it’s campaign fatigue but Santorum didn’t sound nearly as needy as he has in the past. He looked comfortable and was interesting to listen to.
This was by far Rick Perry’s best debate appearance, but it might well be a case of what HR Haldeman used to call “T-L-Squared;” Too Little, Too Late. His answers were good, but it was a little like watching someone trying to cross a six-lane highway – waiting for disaster to strike.
Ron Paul started fast, but seemed to fade as the two-hour debate wore on. He doesn’t do the “I-need-to-respond-to-the-response” game very well. He probably didn’t help himself in this debate but only because the others did so well.