The Corner

Did Thompson Hurt Huckabee?

Back in Washington.  A few random notes left over from last night’s debate:

There was a lot of talk in the Spin Room about the relative absence of Mike Huckabee.  In previous debates, one of the main stories has been how well Huckabee performed, which usually led to the question of why he wasn’t placing higher in the polls.  This time, Huckabee, despite his boost from the Iowa Straw Poll, was not quite as good – he had some sharp lines, but also some stumbles, as when he was asked about Bush’s veto of S-chip.  

Why?  “Thompson sucked some of the air out of Huckabee, which tells me they are competing for the same space” one Romney adviser told me.  “In other debates, a lot of the talk afterward has been, hey, Huckabee did better than we thought.  That didn’t happen tonight, and I think one of the reasons was that Fred was there, which tells me they are competing for similar space.” “The biggest loser was Huckabee,” a Thompson adviser added.  “With Thompson on the stage, that really doesn’t leave much room for Huckabee to do his very good debate stuff.”

Team Huckabee, not surprisingly, doesn’t agree.  “I thought he did very well,” campaign manager John Saltsman told me, “talking about complex issues in a minute.”  As for S-chip, Saltsman said, “He’s been a governor…He knew that was a tough decision for President Bush, and I think the message in that answer was, the president shouldn’t have allowed it to get that far before he did something about it.”

One last thing: the Thompson people were the most unhappy with moderator Chris Matthews, but the Romney people weren’t in a very good mood about him, either.  “Matthews cut Governor Romney off a couple of time,” one Romney aide told me.  “He tossed Rudy a couple of softballs.”  When asked whether he thought Matthews was pro-Giuliani, the adviser got in a double-edged dig: “Well, you know Chris is more comfortable with Democrats on occasion.”

Byron York is a former White House correspondent for National Review.

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