A few thoughts:
The first thing to keep in mind, it seems to me, is that just because the people in the primetime debate have higher poll numbers doesn’t necessarily mean they are better political talents. For instance, if you could rank the candidates by their records instead of by poll numbers, Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal would certainly belong on the big stage ahead of many of the folks in the 9 o’clock slot. This far out, poll numbers have more to do with a bunch of variables — from fundraising to name recognition to entertainment value to the fresh-new-thing factor — than they have to do with some single “objective” metric.
Second, I thought they all did fairly well. Even the candidates I am not very fond of.
Third, I thought they were all very ill-served by the lack of an audience. They only had “friends and family” in the seats. That was unfair. It’s very hard to deliver applause lines to an essentially empty room. One of the reasons I think Fiorina succeeded (more on that in a moment) is that she carried herself like it was packed room.Fourth: The opposite is true of poor Lindsey Graham. He seemed like someone told him his dog died right before he walked out on stage. It was almost like he was about to break out in tears.
Fifth: Jim Gilmore is an honorable and serious man, but he’s the answer to a question no one is asking. It seems he’s the kind of candidate out of the mid 1980s.
And lastly, there’s Carly Fiorina. I have the suspicion she helped herself more by being in this debate than she would have if she were in primetime. That’s not to say she wouldn’t do well in the other debate. Again, some of those guys are formidable, some less so. The point is she did so well in this debate that there will be an enormous amount of buzz about her. Things go viral when people spread the word. “You should have seen Fiorina!” might be the best buzz to have this early in the race. Then again, maybe not. Maybe one of the prime-timers will suck all of the oxygen out of the conversation come tomorrow.
Oh: I should offer this disclosure: My wife has done some work in the past with Fiorina (and with Marco Rubio for that matter). I just thought I should throw that out there, for what it’s worth.