If you made a drinking game out of every mention of "9-9-9" in tonight's debate, you're probably too blotto to read this post until tomorrow. That's because Herman Cain, who mentions his "9-9-9 plan" at every opportunity, has risen in the polls to the point that he's getting much more attention -- he got the first question of the night -- and much more scrutiny, as well. For the first time, Cain had a target on his back, with other candidates (who previously wouldn't have bothered) attacking said 9-9-9 plan as well as Cain's support for TARP and (in Ron Paul's case) his history with the Federal Reserve. Cain took some hits, but his affable demeanor served him well, slipping only when Jon Huntsman made a lame pizza joke that seemed to get under Cain's skin. Rick Santorum's attack on Cain was intellectually sound -- adding a national sales tax would indeed give future congresses a new lever for mischief -- but its effect was blunted by the contrast between Santorum's aggressive, slightly desperate presentation and Cain's unflappable response.
Rick Perry continues to underperform in debates, and his poll numbers are showing it. Fred Barnes noted on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page the other day that the debates are proving to be by far the most important factor in the race this cycle, and this one will do nothing to rescue Perry from the slump he's been in. Mitt Romney, for his part, continues to turn in relatively solid performances; Romney is never great, but he's been consistently good enough.
This debate is probably somewhat less important than average; Barnes pointed out in his WSJ piece that the debates have been getting millions of viewers, but given that tonight's debate was on Bloomberg TV the ratings will probably be significantly lower than those held on Fox News or MSNBC or CNN (particularly since the Charlie Rose-style pacing made this generally less entertaining than previous debates). More exposure for Herman Cain has up until now translated to more support, but his liabilities were on display more tonight than they had been in the past; it may turn out to be a wash. We'll see.
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