Romney: A strong performance. The risk for him was seeming small in fights with Huckabee. The format saved him from that. The emphasis on the economy, education and other domestic, non-hot button issues benefited him. He seemed in control, substantive and positive. If there was a winner, it was Romney.
His strategic play in Iowa seems to be to poach on some of Huckabee’s message, which is shrewd. He can’t change any of his positions obviously, but he can direct his policies to public, and especially middle class, anxieties. He did that today, talking repeatedly about “middle class families.” He has to do it every day from here until the caucuses.
Fred: Was unflappable, funny, and used his theme of “truth telling” very effectively. Standing up to the moderator was a memorable moment that will be talked about a lot. He deflated Romney a bit with his lines about being rich enough not worry about taxes and his comeback in the exchange with Mitt that Romney is becoming a good actor. This performance should help in Iowa where he is focusing now and is in third place according to the RCP average.
Huckabee: Could this be the moment when people begin to focus seriously on this race and his folksy vacuity on a lot of answers just doesn’t cut it? I don’t know the answer to that, but he seemed at his weakest in the harsh glare of a relentlessly substantive and sober debate. I believe he would have been better off fending off attacks from rivals with snappy comebacks. Not today.
Rudy/McCain: Nothing wrong with their performances. But just didn’t seem big factors and were hurt by the emphasis on domestic issues.
Alan Keyes: Shouldn’t have been on the stage.