Here are my final thoughts on the New Hampshire GOP debate which aired this morning on NBC’s Meet the Press and moderated by David Gregory.
Jon Huntsman – I think this was his best debate. His answers were full of sobriety instead of snark. The highlight of his debate was his exchange with Romney over his service as Ambassador to China. Huntsman said, “I was criticized by Mitt Romney for putting my country first.” When Romney countered that it would have been preferable had Huntsman stood for people with conservative principles and not called President Obama “a remarkable leader”, Huntsman fired back, “The nation is divided by attitudes like that,” which earned him warm applause. It’s the sort of language which resonates with New Hampshire voters. Whether it will resonate enough for Granite state to vote for him remains to be seen. But I have a feeling Huntsman will exceed expectations in New Hampshire.
Rick Santorum – He went on the offensive against Romney from the outset and got the better of the exchange between the two on why Romney didn’t seek re-election in Massachusetts. His performance was far crisper than in last night’s debate. Santorum might not win New Hampshire but I think this will certainly help his final tally.
Mitt Romney – Despite being upbraided early in the debate by Santorum, Romney had an otherwise solid debate performance. He also got the better of Newt in an exchange over SuperPAC attacks ads towards the end of the debate. Frankly, it would be a complete shock if he weren’t to win Tuesday’s primary. However, if he wins it by less than ten points, it would represent a setback for Romney thus allowing the seeds of doubt to germinate in South Carolina.
Ron Paul – A much better debate performance than last night. Of course, he always performs better when he doesn’t talk about foreign policy or keeps such talk to a minimum.
Newt Gingrich – He got in some early shots at Romney and had yet another crowd pleasing moment with his blistering critique of the EPA. However Romney got the better of him during their exchange on the SuperPAC attack ads. He had no answer for Romney when he pointed that some aspects of the ads were true.
Rick Perry – He once again made the most of the limited time allotted to him effectively portraying himself as a Washington outsider, as a candidate who has not been part of the problem in Washington. With Bachmann out of the race, he has taken it upon himself to carry the Tea Party mantel and calling President Obama a socialist. This might not do him well in New Hampshire but he isn’t going anywhere and it could prove fatal to Rick Santorum’s aspirations in South Carolina. When the candidates were asked which three programs they would eliminate, Perry drew laughter when he said Commerce, Education and Energy. The question is are audiences laughing with him or are they laughing at him. If it’s the former then he made the right decision to stay and fight. But if it’s the latter then he has effectively handed the nomination to Mitt Romney.
The next GOP debate is scheduled to take place in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on Monday, January 16th and it will air on the Fox News Channel at 9 p.m.