GOP Debate: Winners and Losers
We found it difficult to determine clear winners and losers in last night's Republican presidential debate from here in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was a debate of moments; a number of candidates shined here and there, but none put together a showing that truly distinguished them.
But, we persevere. Here's our look at the winners and losers from last night. Agree or disagree? The comments section awaits your thoughts.
Rudy Giuliani: Of the Big 3, the former Mayor of New York City was the most consistently sound last night. He has improved in each of the three debates and last night seemed genuinely comfortable on stage with his rivals. Following Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-N.Y.) lead from two nights before, Giuliani repeatedly turned the focus to Democrats rather than taking potshots at his rivals. He also likely won points with the base with a strong, no-doubt answer on whether America should have invaded Iraq and with his criticism of the immigration bill as a "typical Washington mess." Giuliani handled a question about his pro-abortion rights position as best as his campaign could hope for but we still believe he faces a real long term problem with the party's base on the issue.
Mike Huckabee: Well, it's official. The former Arkansas governor is a good debater. In each of the first three contests, Huckabee has stood out; in the first two debates it was for his good humor, while last night it was for his straight talk (apologies to Senator McCain) on his religious beliefs. Huckabee was one of three candidates in the first Republican debate to say he did not believe in evolution. Asked last night what he did believe in Huckabee launched into what is best described as an eloquent sermon about the role of God and religion in his life that drew thunderous applause from the audience and praise from at least one of his rivals. Can Huckabee capitalize on his strong showings? We're skeptical. Why? A colleague pointed out that as our email inboxes were being flooded by cherry picked positive reviews for the Big 3, there was nothing from Huckabee. Nuff said.
John McCain: As we said above, this debate was all about moments. And to our mind, McCain had two of the best in the two-hour scrum. The first came when he rose from his chair early in the debate's second hour to respond to a question posed by a woman who had lost her brother in Iraq (watch the exchange in the video player below). McCain's empathetic gesture and answer ( "I want to tell you thank you for your brother's service and sacrifice to our country. We are proud of you and your endurance, and we're proud of your sacrifice.") reminded anyone watching of McCain's own service and sacrifice to the country. Later, McCain used Rep. Tom Tancredo's (R-Colo.) call to curtail legal immigration as a jumping-off point for an eloquent speech on the sacrifices made by many Hispanics during the Vietnam war as as well as the current conflict in Iraq. It was a presidential moment for McCain. He is still a man apart from the field (and the conservative base) when it comes to immigration, however, and faces a real struggle to convince voters that his approach is the right one. Also, is there any way he could stop saying "my friends" so much?
Hillary Rodham Clinton: The Senator from New York was attacked by name at least twice last night -- once by McCain and again by former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R-Va.). Each time Republicans hit Clinton, they reinforce the idea that she is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination and the candidate they are preparing to run against. It builds her up while simultaneously shrinking all of her Democratic rivals.
Sam Brownback: We keep waiting for Brownback to emerge. But so far he has disappointed. Brownback's low-key style ill serves him in a debate (and a race) where he must find a way to distinguish himself from what we are calling the "Second Seven." Brownback had a moment or two last night (his attack on former President Bill Clinton was the highlight) but he seems unwilling to do anything that might make real news. After saying he did not believe that the GOP would or should nominate a pro-abortion rights candidate (only one of which is running for president), Brownback said he would support Giuliani if he became the nominee. It was a missed opportunity to make some news and get himself into the mix of the Big 3.
George W. Bush: When a former member of your cabinet suggests you wouldn't be a very good ambassador to the United Nations and it's not the worst thing said about you during the debate, you know it's a bad night. (The honor for meanest comment of the night about the current president went to Rep. Tom Tancredo who said Bush would not darken the door of a Tancredo Administration. Not sure that is a huge threat but we digress....) As the debates have progressed all of the Republican aspirants have grown more bold about criticizing President Bush. But last night marked a watershed as several of the candidates made clear they would move the country in a decidedly different direction than Bush. It's not a surprising development given Bush's low job approval numbers but shows that his likely to be increasingly isolated from his party in the final 18 months he spends at the White House.
Tom Tancredo: Given that immigration was the central issue of this debate, it seemed logical that Tancredo would play a larger role than he had in the past two skirmishes. He did but did himself no favors. Tancredo's call to not only stop illegal immigration but severely limit legal immigrants from entering the country turned him into a punching bag for the frontrunners. And McCain took a direct shot at Tancredo, praising Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), who had lambasted Tancredo earlier in the day.
"Raise Your Hand" Questions: We told you. Sunday night was the death knell of the raise your hand approach. Last night, CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer asked the candidates to speak up if they disagreed with a certain statement. Props to McCain for taking advantage of the silence after Blitzer asked if any of the candidates did not believe English should be the official language of the United States; he got another minute to explain his immigration stance out of it.
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