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Republican Debate: Winners and Losers

DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Republican debate staged here Wednesday was largely a disappointment as the candidates -- bound by a strict debate format -- were unable to engage one another in a meaningful way.

Even so, some candidates helped themselves and others, well, didn't. Below you'll find our take on the best and worst from yesterday's debate. Agree? Disagree? The comments section is open for business.

WINNERS

Fred Thompson: Thompson's campaign has seemed stuck in a stupor for the last few months. But, yesterday, Thompson woke up in a major way as he was regularly the most engaging and lively candidate on stage. He set the tone early on when he refused to participate when the candidates were asked by moderator Carolyn Washburn to raise their hands if they believed that global climate change was a serious threat. "You want a show of hands," Thompson said. "I'm not giving it to you." Thompson's strident stance signaled what was to come from the normally kindly former Senator. Time and again he hammered on the idea that he alone among the candidates on the stage was willing to tell hard truths to the American public. Asked what he would do in hist first 100 days as president, Thompson replied matter-of-factly: "I'd go before the American people and tell them the truth, and try to establish my credibility." Thompson, for the first time in a long time, looked up to being president.

Mike Huckabee: There's no doubt that Huckabee came into the debate expecting to be hit from all sides. And, thanks (or no thanks) to the debate format, those attacks never came. Instead, Huckabee was able to move beyond the one-liners that have become his trademark in these debates and instead offer a broader vision of his political philosophy. "We are right now a very polarized country and that polarized country has led to a paralyzed government," said Huckabee. "We are a great resilient nation that has to stick together." Huckabee came into this event as the front runner in Iowa and he left it the same way. Given that reality, it's hard not to rate him as a winner.

Ron Paul: Paul is usually the outlier in these events, the candidate that the others humor but don't really take seriously. Hello Alan Keyes. Paul sounded downright conventional when compared to Keyes. Also, in the taped segments that ran during the debate, Paul uttered this line: "The Internet is just delightful." How can you not make him a winner?

LOSERS

Debate format: Where to start? The rigid time limits for each answer coupled with the intricate questions being asked forced candidates to try to pack 50 pounds of -- um -- feathers in a five-pound bag. Washburn, the moderator, seemed so focused on making sure the candidates stayed within their time constraints that she rarely, if ever, followed up to extract more from a particular answer. The worst part of the format, however, was that it ensured that no real debating could happen. Candidates were encouraged to simply regurgitate their stump speeches, which they did with pleasure. The expectations for this event were high and rightfully so, as it was the final GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3. It felt more like a missed opportunity than anything else.

Alan Keyes: When we first saw Keyes up on the stage yesterday, we had a brief moment of nostalgia for all the debate performances he put on in 2004. And then he started talking. Keyes -- as only he can do -- dominated much of the debate, taking time away from people who are running real campaigns. In some ways, Keyes wasn't the loser; the real loser was whoever decided to let him into this last (and most important) debate.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 13, 2007; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: GOP Wins Ohio Seat: Does it Signal a Comback?

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