Debates have made a significant impact among the current Republican field.  I don’t believe last night’s CNN/Western Republican Debate in Las Vegas, NV was any different.  We’ve seen ups and downs.  It’s been interesting to see how we’ve had different candidates receive the attention as the frontrunner status has been in flux.  You can tell that the first contest is quickly approaching (as the Republican Party of Iowa officially established their caucus date as January 3rd in response to Nevada Republicans moving their caucus to January 14th) by the blood in the water.

How did they fare?

Rick Santorum – Senator Santorum gave another strong performance.  He landed a couple of good punches on Mitt Romney.  He planted seeds of doubt with Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, and bringing up the analysis that said 84% of Americans would experience a tax increase was his most effective point in his deconstruction of Cain’s plan.  He also called three of the candidates out on their support of TARP.  His best moment was when they were addressing what message Republicans should send to Latinos.  He pointed out that no one had addressed faith and freedom with them.  It is a major area of common ground.  Latinos should resonate with social conservatism.  He also did an excellent job of pointing out Romney’s record of flip flopping while making the case that he can beat Obama.

Newt Gingrich – I’d declare Speaker Gingrich to be a close runner-up.  He’s the smartest guy on stage.  He had some great one-liners.  He questioned Romney’s health care plan when he was Governor and giving the example of a business that was fined as a result was excellent.  Gingrich came across strong in the discussion of military spending.  He had some great one-liners.  The only shot he took was in a Romney rebuttal citing his past endorsement of the individual mandate.  Romney said he got the idea from him.  Gingrich admitted his past position on the individual mandate, but pointed out that Romney didn’t get the idea from him.

Ron Paul – His best moment was calling on the the other candidates to list their real cuts in spending.  Some of his ideas with military spending makes sense like withdrawing military aid from Europe, others smacked of naivety.  He also offered a good critique of Cain’s 9-9-9 plan and his answers on taxes were solid, and his answer regarding Yucca Mountain was very good.  This was his best debate in my opinion.

Mitt Romney – He was wounded.  While I believe that overall he came out ahead with the back and forth with Perry; people are looking at his record once again.  He was able to parry some of the criticism, but not all.  I find it interesting that in 2008 he denied hiring illegal immigrants, last night he explained what happened.  When dealing with job creation and taxes he was strong.  Tonight I believe reminded people that he does in fact have a record and it isn’t very good.  This was his weakest debate performance.

Herman Cain – His 9-9-9 plan was savaged, last week he didn’t do a bad job defending it.  With this debate his opponents came better prepared.  He wasn’t good on foreign policy and was criticized for saying in a recent interview with Wolf Blitzer that he could see himself releasing Gitmo prisoners in exchange for a hostage.  He backtracked on that saying he not negotiate with terrorists, but it left an opening for criticism.  He did well in his answer about providing an alternative to Obamacare.  I also thought he struck a chord with those in the audience when talking about Occupy Wall Street.

Rick Perry – He went on the attack, but took more than he dished out.  I felt uncomfortable watching the Romney-Perry exchange.  His continual interruption will likely not play well with views.  He seemed angry in that exchange.  He was hit again on illegal immigration.  Romney pointing out he was Al Gore’s chairman…. ouch.  Not a good night for Perry.

Michele Bachmann – She also gave a good critique of Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, tax policy.  She gave some solid answers related to Obamacare.  She didn’t stand out to me, but she didn’t make any mistakes.  A good performance, but not one that I think will give her any type of traction.

Winners: Santorum and Gingrich – Made excellent points, Gingrich stayed out of much of the bickering.  Santorum landed some nice critiques and his points regarding the family help him stand out.

Middle of the Pack: Romney, Cain, Paul, and Bachmann – if I thought Bachmann stood out more I would have put her in the winners group.  If Cain didn’t give some great answers later in the debate I would have placed him in the losers group.  I would not be surprised to see him drop some in the polling due to the criticism of his 9-9-9 plan.

Losers: Perry – the only thing keeping him in the race right now is his fundraising ability.  I’ll also throw Anderson Cooper in there, he’s horrible at moderating debates.

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