10:37 pm: Sorry — did we miss a debate? Thankfully, it’s on again later tonight. OK — final thoughts. It was a snoozer. That’s good for John McCain and Mitt Romney. I’d make Romney the winner on points — he looked the part, as he always does, and mostly ducked the incoming fire, while talking about the economy in strong terms. McCain was fine – but he had a clunker of an answer for a Florida crowd, on the national catastrophic fund. Rudy Giuliani was, to borrow his term, "OK," but he probably needed to be more than that. Mike Huckabee faded away, notwithstanding a couple of jokes.
That’s it for tonight — check back with The Note tomorrow morning, as always, for more. Thanks for reading…
10:34 pm: Ron Paul makes his bid for news: "I have no intention to go into another party. . . . I wish they would worry about it, just in case."
10:31 pm: That was an extraordinary statement by McCain about Rudy. Wow. Totally out of place in a debate. Part classy, part calculating — if Rudy gets out of the race, that is an endorsement McCain would like to have.
10:29 pm: The Giuliani campaign sends out this Romney quote: "Well, I’m not concerned about the voters." He was talking about the need to explain his self-financing. Didn’t strike me as bad at the time, but out of context — that is terrible.
And the Romney folks are also circulating that New York Times endorsement of McCain. Still waiting for the McCain campaign to brag about it.
10:26 pm: Huckabee got his best joke off about Chuck Norris. And he does it in a way that’s sure to point out that he still loves John McCain. Wait for that ticket to form…
10:23 pm: Giuliani loves to say, "the reality is." The reality is, he doesn’t want to be talking about immigration policy as it impacts Cuba.
10:18 pm: Huckabee must have been reading this blog, with the joke about his kids’ inheritance. But Huck could have done it better, and he hasn’t really been a factor tonight.
10:14 pm: He’s concerned about the American his kids will inherit — more than his kids’ inheritance, certainly.
10:12 pm: OK, Mitt Romney can talk about his high-school buds and how much money he’s raised, but it’s his "substantial contribution" — and the prospect of more — that’s keeping him in this race. Period. And there’s no good reason for him not to say how much he’s given his own campaign.
10:10 pm: ABC’s Karen Travers reports: "Okay so Rudy the Red Sox fan is now Eli Manning? The Giants were never 0-4. (They did start 2-2 with that lucky break against the Eagles) and at least they showed up for their first four games. I can’t imagine any politician wanting to compare himself to Eli Manning."
For the record, the Giants are going to win the Super Bowl, Ms. Travers’ Eagles fandom not withstanding.
10:08 pm: Ooh, McCain asked about that lovely quote from his mom, that Republicans would "hold their nose" and vote for him. Jake Tapper: "I think we’re going to get through the debate and the harshest attack line will have come from Roberta McCain slamming her son!"
10:06 pm: "We have them all lulled into a very false sense of security now," Giuliani says. Isn’t he sort of making fun of himself with that line? "I believe that I’ll get the nomination." But he doesn’t SOUND like he believes that. And Jake Tapper points out that he praised his rivals as "terrific candidates." But why, Mr. Mayor, are you more terrific?
10:05 pm: The McCain anti-Romney Web video is amusing. It’s also the first (that I know of) to cast Mitt Romney as John Kerry.
10:01 pm: Jake Tapper suggests a title for the evening: "The Hippocratic Debate."
That works for some better than others.
10 pm: TW- you’re right, these debates have been seesaws on both sides, some aggressive, some less so. But this is crunch time — I’m surprised that we aren’t seeing new playbooks.
9:58 pm: John McCain could be doing himself some real damage in Florida by coming out against the catastrophic insurance fund. Little old ladies now scared that they are going to see their insurance rates triple.
9:55 pm: This catastrophic fund — Rudy’s folks think this is going to carry him in Florida. He’s giving an extended speech on it and teeing it up for Romney — good political positioning, and Rudy’s best moment of the night. But Romney says he does support it — kinda takes some wind out of Giuliani’s attack.
9:53 pm: Huckabee asks Romney a pointed question on guns. Romney says he would have signed the assault-weapons ban, though he then says we don’t need "any new legislation." This is carefully worded stuff.
9:51 pm: This is delicious — the NYT endorses John McCain, and the GIULIANI campaign is sending out the clip. Tells you were that esteemed newspaper stands with GOP voters.
9:50 pm: From Jake Tapper: "Now it’s the McCain people being all nice on stage and nasty on the web. McCain just asked Huckabee for a friendly explanation of the "Fair Tax." Meanwhile, his press office just sent out an anti-Mitt video link."
9:49 pm: Mike Huckabee: I’ll tax pimps and gamblers. Put that on a bumper sticker.
9:47 pm: What has gotten into these guys? Don’t they know that asking each other questions is an artful way for debate moderators to goad the candidates into attacking each other? I jest, but McCain asks Huckabee to talk about the fair tax? What is in the water in Florida? Did these guys just get off the shuffleboard court?
9:44 pm: Romney decides to ask Giuliani an actual substantive question, not a loaded political one, by asking about economic relations with China. Didn’t see that coming. Jake Tapper has a theory: Oh, right — he needs Giuliani to steal McCain’s moderate voters on Tuesday.
9:42 pm: At the break (and nearly at the half-way point) — let’s hope the candidates have more interesting things to ask each other.
9:40 pm: ABC’s Jake Tapper: "Good moment for Rudy — contrasting with Hillary Clinton, he says he was for the war when 6 out of 10 approved of it, and is still backing it even thought 6 out of 10 oppose it. Sounded strong.
"Huckabee criticized Bush’s administration for having "an arrogant bunker mentality" — but you wouldn’t know it from his response. He even intimated that WMD are like easter eggs — we might find some in the future! (Painted red.)"
9:37 pm: Ted — if Rudy loses Florida, it’s hard to imagine him continuing. He could limp on to Super Tuesday if he really felt like it, but he’s running out of money, if not energy.
9:36 pm: "I’m for it not because of polls, but because America is in a war," Giuliani says, squeezing in a hit on Clinton. His best line of the night. And where did all these anti-war people get tickets to a GOP debate? Ron Paul gets applause for saying the war was a mistake.
9:33 pm: There is a crowd! Applauding Romney for taking on Sen. Clinton. ABC’s Jake Tapper: "Mitt’s having a good night. He seems presidential. And as of now you’d hardly know everyone on that stage hates his guts."
And then, oddly, applauding when Russert said the war wasn’t worth it.
9:32 pm: Who benefits from boredom? That’s easy — the frontrunners. John McCain was rooting for this to be about as action-packed as canasta night at Del Boca Vista down the road from the debate site. And Mitt Romney at least looks alive.
9:31 pm: ABC’s Jake Tapper offers this observation: "ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz."
9:30 pm: We are one-third of the way into this, and nothing has happened. If I was still working for a newspaper, I’d be freaking out about now, since I wouldn’t have a lede.
9:27 pm: Here comes a fresh batch of Rudy numbers. I’m surprised he doesn’t have a better message tonight than statistics — he doesn’t seem to have adapted his message to changing circumstances.
9:26 pm: To listen to Mitt Romney say it, "they" are pretty evil, as in the them who are running Washington. This is his new message — not a bad one, but maybe one he should have discovered 10 months ago or so.
9:25 pm: ABC’s Jake Tapper: "Rudy’s spinners are out in full force, hammering McCain’s and Romney’s records in emails…It ain’t enough for them to do it in emails — unless theyre emailing every Florida Republican — Giuliani needs to draw these contrasts himself."
And ABC’s David Chalian points out that the very moment Giuliani press secretary Maria Comella was sending out an email bashing McCain on taxes, Giuliani was praising McCain for fighting excessive spending!
9:23 pm: Maybe I’m unfairtly comparing this to the wild Democratic debate on Monday, but this is an EXTREMELY low-energy affair. Even Huckabee’s joke — "the only guy at the UN without a headset" — couldn’t get a chuckle.
9:22 pm: It seems to me that when John McCain says he’s giving you some "straight talk," he’s actually falling back on campaign pablum. Not that it isn’t truthful, just that it isn’t fresh.
9:21 pm: ABC’s John Berman reports: "A few weeks ago it was cars and Michigan in his DNA . . . now it is the economy. He has pretty busy DNA . . . huh?"
9:20 pm: Rudy is talking about 9/11 in a convoluted matter, talking about that $10 million check he turned down. And he’s talking about fears of a "Japanese building"? Huh?
And so far — no new ground this evening, which is good for McCain.
9:16 pm: The Rudy press office is churning out oppo tonight, ABC’s Jan Simmonds reports. It’s in keeping with a campaign operation that’s far more aggressive with Rudy’s opponents than Rudy himself.
9:14 pm: For the record, Romney takes the first swing, calling it a "difference" with McCain that he voted against the Bush tax cuts. McCain’s "bridge to nowhere" response seems about as good a defense as one could muster.
9:13 pm: The Giuliani campaign finds the quote: "The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should," McCain said. "I’ve got Greenspan’s book."
9:11 pm: Huckabee is less clean than Romney on the question of tax cuts — so that’s why he’s not using this as a chance to attack him on. This is an odd response — instead of giving people money directly, he wants to invest in highways. Hmmmm….
9:09 pm: Did John McCain claim not have uttered that quote about not knowing that much about the economy? I’m looking for a citation to remind him.
9:07 pm: Rudy Giuliani called the package "OK." Anyone else recall the last time he said "OK" on a debate stage? It was the OK that almost KO’d him way back when he was the frontrunner, and he was talking about how he’d feel if Roe v. Wade was overturned.
9:05 pm: "I think it’s very important to make the tax cuts permanent," McCain said. Now we’ll see how long it takes for someone else to point out that he voted against those tax cuts originally. (And I should note that, as I write, The New York Times has just endorsed John McCain — and, more intriguingly, Hillary Clinton.)
9:04 pm: Romney gets an initial question on the economy — this is tailor made for him. He’s got to be happy to get a straight-away shot to talk about how to grow the economy and create jobs. "I just think we need to go further" than the current deal embraced by the president. He sounds authoritative and in control on this subject.
9 pm: Did we need to hear LBJ pronounce "Florida Atlantic University" for this debate to start? Was that the entire clip?
8:50 pm: Here’s a tidbit from inside the Romney campaign, from ABC’s John Berman: "Sense in Romney camp is that Giuliani’s slide has stabilized…and they want it that way…cause the more Rudy slips, the more it helps McCain."
Nothing tastier than debate-night spin.
8:40 pm ET: A few thoughts before we get started here. First, Rudy Giuliani is going to be the center of attention. He’s made no secret about the fact that it’s do or die for him in Florida, and the latest polls suggest he’s got to do something dramatic if he wants to continue in this race.
Other dynamics to watch: Who (other than Mitt Romney) will hit John McCain? Does Rudy have it in him? How about Mike Huckabee? Or does their respect for McCain (or, in Huck’s case, the possible desire to be on his ticket) hold them back? Florida is a big test for McCain — the first contest with just Republicans voting — and he’s certainly vulnerable to questions about his GOP credentials. But other than Romney — who has been ready to attack anyone and everyone for months — McCain has largely ducked attacks on stage.
Hey everyone, Rick Klein from ABC’s The Note here. I’ll be live-blogging during Thursday night’s Republican debate in Boca Raton, Fla., starting at 9 pm ET. Watch on MSNBC and be part of the running conversation here.
"And you can quote me on that! What’s up with the microphone reverb for the St Pete Times editor? So far this debate rivals the Des Moines Register debate, soporific-wise."