After the fireworks in the last couple debates, tonight was quite a change of pace. With the audience discouraged from applauding, there was little energy for the candidates to feed off of; Newt Gingrich in particular suffered from this. I agree with Jim that the exchanges between Gingrich and Mitt Romney are probably raising both candidates’ negatives, but I tend to think that Romney came out ahead. It was by no means a knockout — the debate was too dull overall to have a huge impact — but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gingrich’s momentum in the polls slow down a bit.
Rick Santorum and Ron Paul barely got a word in edgewise. Paul is largely skipping Florida — it’s a large winner-take-all state, and his campaign is focusing on caucus states where they can press their organizational advantage — so this isn’t much of a problem for him, but Santorum may be hitting a wall. Paul isn’t in this to win the nomination, he’s in it to sustain the movement he’s started, and bringing as many delegates as he can to the convention serves that goal. Santorum’s candidacy has no such second-order rationale. If the Newt vs. Mitt contest is sucking up all the oxygen, one wonders how long Santorum can justify staying in the race.