Let me begin by saying that this debate on the economy was a very cordial affair despite the best efforts of the CNBC panelists to get the candidates to engage in fisticuffs. Here’s how I think the candidates did tonight.
Rick Santorum – No sooner than he started complaining about not being asked any questions about housing, the panelists saw fit not to ask him anything at all in the last hour of the debate. I can’t say I blame them.
Michele Bachmann – This was her best debate since the summer. She was particularly strong on Social Security and China. I am not sure if it’s a day and a dollar short but if she strings together a few more performances like that she might still have life left. In which case, she could have a good showing in Iowa.
Newt Gingrich – He seemed a little more cantankerous than usual.Gingrich hasn’t had kind words for the media but he seemed unnecessarily testy with Maria Betrimono. Yes, she was obnoxious but he should have stayed cool. Otherwise, he put in a good performance and his numbers should continue to climb.
Mitt Romney – Aside from not momentarily not remembering how long he had been married, he put in yet another solid performance. Not surprisingly, he was well received by the Michigan audience. Yet it remains to be seen if he will resonate in Iowa or South Carolina.
Herman Cain – Despite a rough ten days, Cain was composed, well focused and retained his trademark sense of humor. He is still very much a contender in this race.
Rick Perry – While I think not remembering he wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy humanized him, I don’t think he did anything to inspire confidence.
Ron Paul – He put in a respectable performance and had a particularly good response with regard to the Federal Student Loan program.
Jon Huntsman – Like Santorum, he doesn’t help himself by complaining about only getting 30 seconds to respond or lament feeling lonely on stage. But when the panelists gave Huntsman a chance to elaborate on his criticism of Romney’s sabre rattling on China, he pulled a Pawlenty.
The next debate is scheduled for this Saturday in South Carolina. It is will air on CBS and is co-sponsored by the National Journal. The debate will focus primarily on national security issues.