There were no game changers tonight in the presidential debate in Arizona but I will say this: Someone must have given Rick Santorum smile lessons before the debate. I have NEVER seen him so relaxed and happy in a debate setting.
You may discount this as no big deal but remember that voters don’t typically elect mean, angry, whiny people to be president of the United States. Santorum and his advisors knew there would be a lot of incoming fire from Romney tonight and the last time we saw Romney go on the attack he got under the skin of Newt Gingrich. Romney walked away with Florida.
You could tell Santorum was determined not to let Romney get to him tonight and he was successful in that sense. Now a closer look at each candidate:
A good night for Romney. He had some good attacks on Santorum’s fiscal record and bringing up Santorum’s endorsement of Arlen Specter was a good move. However, unlike the Florida debate where Romney really leveled Gingrich he couldn’t rattle Santorum. There was no knockout punch that would tip the scales in his favor in Michigan.
But once again we see Romney at his best when under duress. His answers on Iran were strong, bold, and passionate, which are all attributes he’ll need to show more of if he’s to win the nomination.
Considering he had to deal with a fiscal tag team between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, he got out of there with just a few scratches. It was refreshing to see Santorum stay principled on the question of earmarks. Ultimately, I don't think that’s a huge loser for him considering earmarks are not the biggest problem in Congress.
However, his defense of Arlen Specter has absolutely no upside and he probably needs to jettison any defense of him right away. Even if you can make the case (like Santorum did) that he endorsed Specter so he’d vote for Bush’s conservative judges the reality is the Specter endorsement is a major negative within the Tea Party. Less words about Specter the better. It’s probably best to run away from that one quickly.
Santorum did strike gold when he weaved his pro-family message into his answer about birth control. Very effective and should play very well with Michigan’s social conservatives.
He is always better when he is NOT the frontrunner. He seemed much more relaxed tonight than the last time we saw him in Florida. He had some good zingers but more importantly he sounded like a statesman and fired most of his incoming at Obama.
He appeared above the fray tonight, which is a good place for Gingrich to be. His answer tying gas prices to the Iranian threat and his energy policy was a masterstroke. His comment about the media giving Obama a free pass on the infanticide bill was also a nice way to turn the conversation to his liking.
Overall, a very solid performance, which just makes you think how Gingrich is not going way. Don’t count him out yet especially if Santorum stumbles.
I thought Ron Paul had a very good debate tonight. He looked engaged, sharp and his answers were quick. He was especially good when battling with Santorum over Title X, suggesting that voting for Planned Parenthood funds because they were in a big appropriations bill was just another big Washington excuse.
It was classic Ron Paul and it’s hard to argue the point other than to say that dealing with the appropriations process on the Hill is tougher than it seems. A lot of times Ron Paul’s views are in a bubble and sound great on paper but in the real world of politics where there are many variables, the reality is much different.