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Republicans Debate: Winners and Losers

Last night's Republican debate in Florida provided plenty of fodder for folks like The Fix. The candidates unloaded on one another time and time again, a sign that voting is just around the corner in crucial states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

The Fix spent late last night and this morning sifting through the remains of the debate, looking for who stood out and who stood down. Below you'll find our analysis but, as always, we want to hear from The Fix community as well. Agree or disagree with our winners and losers? Offer you own in the comments section below.

WINNERS

Mike Huckabee: The former Arkansas governor needed a strong performance to keep the buzz building around his candidacy and he delivered. Huckabee was firing on all cylinders last night -- not only did he display his quick wit and penchant for memorable one-liners ("More people in this country are afraid of an audit than a mugging and there's a reason why") but he also showed a serious side that he needs to be a top-tier contender. A potentially damaging question about his support for the death penalty turned into Huckabee's best moment of the night as he effectively conveyed the gravity of his decision while also noting he was the only one on stage who had the experience of having to make it. Pressed by moderator Anderson Cooper on whether Jesus would have supported the death penalty, Huckabee quipped: "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office." The lone concern for Huckabee lovers out there is that he disappeared somewhat in the second half of the debate as the focus shifted to foreign policy. He must find ways to convince voters he is ready and able to tackle those sorts of issues to win.

John McCain: McCain has learned over the past few debates how to make the most of the (relatively) little time he is given. Last night he hammered home the idea that he alone on the stage had the experience -- both personally and professionally -- to win the White House and solve the major problems facing the country. McCain, taking a page from the playbook of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, effectively used Rep. Ron Paul as a foil -- taking Paul on over his assertion that American troops should come home from a failed mission in Iraq. "That kind of isolationism sir is what caused World War II," McCain said to a mixture of boos and cheering from the crowd. McCain also struck a powerful note when scolding Romney for the latter's refusal to say whether or not water boarding constituted torture. The problem for McCain last night? He still stands outside of the base of the party on the issue that animates conservatives like no other: immigration.

Chuck Norris: Norris is milking his endorsement of Huckabee for all it's worth. First he shows up in the Huck's television ads and now he is sitting next to Huck's wife at the debate? Man. In Huckabee's ad, he says "Chuck Norris doesn't endorse a candidate. He tells you how it's gonna be." Truer words were never spoken.

LOSERS

Rudy Giuliani: Hizzoner wasn't totally on his game last night but he wasn't all that bad either. The issue for Giuliani -- and the reason he's in today's "Losers" section -- was the heavy focus on social issues during the debate. Immigration dominated the first half hour, followed by guns and the abortion. And did we mention Giuliani had to answer a question on this Politico story -- ensuring that anyone who hadn't already seen it surely would? The night wasn't all bad for Giuliani. He gave an effective answer to a tough question on whether his entire presidential bid was predicated on Sept. 11, 2001 (it's not, he asserted) and sought to draw distinctions between his record as mayor and Mitt Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts.

Fred Thompson: Thompson is getting more comfortable in these debates but it's too late. Here's Thompson's problem: He wants to be the rise above it all, big policy ideas guy but the way the race has played out he has to be far more aggressive in drawing contrasts with his rivals if he wants to regain his lost poll standing. Last night Thompson was magnanimous and funny but he disappeared for huge swaths of the debate and when he did get a chance to speak it was to make a policy pronouncement or gently rib one of his opponents. Thompson's campaign seems to grasp the urgency as evidenced by their attack on Romney and Huckabee in the former Tennessee Senator's 30 second video clip. The candidate, however, was not up to the fight. Asked about the ad, he said only: "These are their words."

Anderson Cooper: First, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) kept referring to the moderator as "Cooper". Then the controversy over the question asked by Gen. Keith Kerr exploded after the debate with Cooper taking most of the incoming. Neither was Cooper's fault but when you are the moderator you get all of the credit or, in this case, the blame.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 29, 2007; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: Fix Pick: 'Good Bill vs. Bad Bill'

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