Just ten days before Christmas and 19 days before the Iowa caucuses, the seven GOP candidates met in Sioux City, Iowa for their 13th debate of the year.
#13 was lucky for some. Not so great for others:
WINNERS: Mitt Romney: He was cool, calm and collected. No $10,00 bets or “reach out and touch someone” moments.
And, while the former Massachusetts governor has been relentlessly attacking former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the trail this week, he was nothing but nice to Newt all night on stage, a sign, perhaps, of the Romney campaign’s confidence that the barrage of anti-Gingrich ads and increased media scrutiny has already taken its toll on Gingrich’s standing in the polls.
And, if Gingrich voters are looking for an alternative, Romney wants to welcome them in with open arms.
Instead, Romney spent most of his time in general election mode, going after Obama instead of his GOP opponents.
Michele Bachmann: As she did in last week’s debate, Michele Bachmann came out swinging. And it was Newt Gingrich who felt her fury, as she challenged him on issues ranging from his consultancy work for Freddie Mac to his record on abortion.
If Bachman could translate the energy she has on stage to support on the ground, she could be a contender.
At the very least, she did outflank and outperform Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Sen. Rick Santorum, the two other GOPers on stage competing with her for the social conservative vote.
Ron Paul: Texas Rep. Ron Paul was energized, engaged and articulate. He looked and acted like a frontrunner. This was probably his best performance yet.
LOSERS Rick Perry: He didn’t flub anything, but he didn’t do anything big either. Perry needs a game changing moment to get him into the top tier in Iowa. He didn’t make that happen tonight.
Fox Moderators: they were well-prepared, asked good questions and were judicious with the time clock. But, try as they might, they couldn’t get these candidates to really engage on another.
MEH: Newt Gingrich: He was the man in the middle, literally and figuratively. He took the most oncoming fire, both from the moderators and a couple of his opponents. He didn’t stumble in any of his answers, but he didn’t shine either. Newt needs energy and enthusiasm behind him for the next 19 days. This wasn’t the kind of performance that keeps the troops fired up or keeps wavering supporters on board.