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Did Debate Help Romney Solidify Leading Position in New Hampshire...and Beyond?

New GBTV contributor David Brody:

Some observations: Clearly, this was a debate about who is going to be the “Anti-Romney” candidate. Meanwhile, Romney smiles the whole way through like a Cheshire cat. The gloves didn’t come off tonight but expect a different outcome in South Carolina next week when Romney won’t be on his home turf.

Candidate breakdown:

Mitt Romney: In the spin room after the debate, Romney surrogate and big hockey fan Tim Pawlenty told me that Mitt Romney is like the Wayne Gretzky of this presidential field. And you know what? After tonight’s debate it’s hard to argue with that. None of the candidates really laid a glove on the frontrunner and would it have mattered anyhow? He looks so calm, cool and collected out there. No wonder the Obama White House is worried. This guy is a machine with facts and prose. It was another winning night.

Rick Santorum: I think he did extremely well tonight because he didn’t get angry at the attacks by Ron Paul and was able to articulate a strong defense of his conservatism. He had a great moment when talking about the dangers of radical Islam which evangelicals will love but his even better moment came when he explained that Mitt Romney’s use of the words “Middle Class” was inappropriate because as president he wouldn’t invoke class warfare. It was a beautiful stroke to weave that line into an overall message about his blue collar working roots and then he transitioned into an eloquent explanation about why he could beat Obama and be an excellent Commander-In-Chief. He did himself proud tonight.

For the rest of Brody's analysis click here.


National Journal's Ron Fournier:

The only five men standing between Mitt Romney and the Republican presidential nomination took a walk Saturday night -- attacking each other and the media as the former Massachusetts governor coasted toward the brass ring.

Romney came to the debate threatening to run away with the race, and left the stage just as strong. Maybe stronger. He faced surprisingly little criticism from his flailing rivals, and answered their punches with sharp jabs.

Rep. Ron Paul called Rick Santorum corrupt. Santorum called Paul a liar. Paul called Gingrich a draft dodger. Gingrich accused the media of bias and actually praised Romney for "a good (campaign) message."

Gov. Rick Perry suggested that he would send U.S. troops back to Iraq, prompting disbelieving moderator George Stephanopoulos to all but challenge his sanity: "Now?" the ABC reporter said.

The closest Romney got to making news was opposing the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. He also supported contraception. Yes, contraception.

"Contraception, it's working fine," Romney said. "Leave it alone."

Oh -- Kathryn Jean Lopez has a good question -- click  here to see it.

Hugh Hewitt:

If you had to pick a nominee to face President Obama solely on the basis of tonight’s debate –a nd not just the president but the combined forces of the MSM supporting him, like ABC’s moderators — it would surely be Romney, which tells you who won, and decisively.

None of the candidates except Paul had a bad night, and Rick Santorum solidified his clear status as the alternative to Romney, but the much-anticipated Newt attacks on Romney barely materialized and indeed there isn’t even a memorable anti-Mitt line from the entire affair, unless it was in Chinese and hasn’t been translated yet. The former Massachusetts governor was poised, funny, informed, and demonstrated again and again the key media skill that will be needed between now and November: The ability to turn the MSM’s questions back against Obama, to call absurd questions on their face, and to constantly elevate the immediate inquiry to the higher question of the country’s direction.

Marc A. Thiessen:

The big winner tonight was Mitt Romney for one simple reason: No one laid a finger on him. Romney repeatedly turned his fire on Obama while all the non-Romneys fought with each other. Paul called Gingrich a draft dodger. Perry called Paul a hypocrite. Paul called Santorum a big-government conservative. And Romney just stood back and watched it all. Whenever the moderators asked him to join the fray he demurred and turned the discussion toward Obama.

He even went after the moderators for asking a “silly question” and when asked to criticize his rivals said everyone on the stage would do better than Obama. The irony is that that was Gingrich’s role in the debates a few months ago — now Romney has appropriated it.

The big loser tonight was ABC News.

Find out why here.

Daniel Horowitz at Red State calls it, "The Biggest Mistake of the Worst Debate":

Let’s face it: the ABC News New Hampshire debate was the worst debate of the entire election cycle.  And that is saying something, considering the sheer volume of debates.  How many years and election cycles will it take before Republicans learn to turn to conservatives as moderators for presidential debates, instead of washed up Democrat hacks disguised as journalists?

Now, to the extent that such a pathetic debate is worthy of any analysis, the clear winner was Mitt Romney.  Watching the debate, you’d think Ron Paul was the frontrunner.  All of the verbal altercations played out between Ron Paul and one of the other candidates.  Romney was able to sit pretty throughout the entire debate, except for one monologue from Santorum at the end of the debate.  Undoubtedly, the platform for the debate, along with the inane questions, wasn’t exactly conducive to attacking Romney’s liberal record as governor.  However, they all had an opportunity during the opening salvo of the debate.  They failed miserably.

Michael Barone at the Washington Examiner:

At about 10:28pm tonight, as Mitt Romney pivoted from a question on tax loopholes and started in with, “the real issue is vision,” I had recorded this thought in my notes, “He just clinched the nomination.”

Romney said, as he often has, that Barack Obama has put America on the road to decline and is trying to make America more like Europe. He made reference to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as he often has—which helps to explain why he polls about as well with supporters of the tea party movement, who revered and often reference the Founding documents, as with non-supporters—and proclaimed that the question in this election was whether America was going to remain “a unique nation”and whether it would “return to the principles on which it was founded.” To which Newt Gingrich then meekly concurred, adding some caveats.

And...Jonathan S. Tobin at Commentary:

Going into Saturday night’s debate in New Hampshire, Rick Santorum’s rise might have made him the focal point of the event but although he had a good night the real story was the failure of any of his rivals to lay a glove on frontrunner Mitt Romney​. Though the evening began with a brutal attack on Romney from Newt Gingrich, it fell flat. From then on, Romney cruised and the night ended looking more like the inevitable nominee than ever.

Santorum sounded strong and confident and he also had help from Newt Gingrich that made the two of them look like a wrestling tag team. Nothing that happened tonight will interfere with his momentum and he may well do better than expected in New Hampshire and set himself up for a good night next week in South Carolina. But the failure of the GOP field to successfully attack Romney will only strengthen his position as the man that looks like the eventual winner.

One last thing…
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