This was an oddly subdued night. (Meanwhile the campaign staffers were furiously filling our e-mailboxes with releases, charges, countercharges, etc.)
I’m not really going to grade tonight, as I don’t think there was an enormous margin between the candidates this evening. One of the challenges of covering this race is getting a sense of how these candidates and their messages are perceived to folks who don’t follow politics day-to-day, who just begin to tune in to the race in the closing days before they head to the polls.
If you were an apolitical Floridian, and you just tuned in tonight, I think you were probably impressed by Romney. It was his most unflappable performance in a while, and a large chunk of the time was on the economy, probably his best issue. He parried Russert’s questions on his finances and his faith well. He stepped on a few opportunities for some good one-liners, but that was never his strong suit.
Everybody else – McCain, Giuliani, Huckabee, even Paul – they were all more or less their regular selves, and if not at the top of their game, avoided any major gaffes or mistakes. I can’t imagine that there was anything that changed the dynamics of the race tonight, I don’t think we’ll see any post-debate burst or slide for any candidate.
I think I was a little surprised that no candidate seemed to think they could benefit from their jabs. Maybe they felt the back-and-forth among the Democrats hurt their side. The result was a night where nobody got hurt, the benefits were few, nobody ever went on the attack, and nobody had a YouTube moment.
UPDATE: The bigger news of the night is probably the New York Times endorsing McCain, which is being touted by just about every candidate EXCEPT John McCain.
I wonder if McCain can reject the endorsement?
ANOTHER UPDATE: Again, I don’t know if it’s a race-changer, but Huckabee’s joke about Mitt Romney spending his sons’ inheritance is getting terrible responses from the bloggers who watched.