I watched the Republican debate last night from New Hampshire - which conspicuously did not include Fred Thompson. Quick hit thoughts...
Gov. Mike Huckabee - he is simply brilliant in these formats. While other candidates just seem to struggle in the large debate format (read: McCain, Tancredo), Huckabee shines. But - as I've been saying for some time - he is clearly running for VP, complimenting everyone of the "front-runners" and only taking on the other second tier candidates. Still, Huckabee is very, very good and has a real shot of becoming the "fourth" top-tier candidate replacing McCain.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani - he seems to be getting more comfortable with the whole debate thing each time out. I thought he was really effective last night - especially on the "family values" ambush question. (As an aside, I really thought the ambushes of Giuliani and Romney were poor.) He seems to be taking heat for his answer by some commentators today, but for me is was very effective - No, I'm not a saint, but I am a successful manager regardless of the trials of the personal side of life. Sounds like a leader to me.
Sen. John McCain - esasily the best debate performance I have seen by McCain. He almost seems to have his old "maverick" swagger back. But is it too little, too late? The conventional wisdom in both national and Republican circles seems to be that his campaign is dead. He has no traction with votes. He has no real "support." He simply has a block that feels it is his turn to run. That is not much to base a campaign on. Regardless, he flat showed up last night and showed signs of life. Now, he must use that performance as a spring-board to re-start his campaign.
Gov. Mitt Romney - every indication is that Fred Thompson's entry into the race hurts Romney more than any other candidate. So, on the night that Thompson was so much the story, it was essential that Romney could shine, and keep the focus on him. To put it plainly, he failed. He rarely made an interesting or original point. He nevery stood out - although it appeared to me tha the was given considerably more time than the other candidates. He was robotic, over-scripted, and dull. A large opportunity lost.
Why Are They Still In It? -
Rep. Tom Tancredo - he is just so terrible in these formats. I have no idea what he is like as a campaigner generally, but he is terrible in the debates. He has utterly no organization to his thoughts. He is extremely poor at thinking on his feet. And he is disasterous at articulating his points. He serves no purpose in the debates, nor in the field of candidates more generally. Although, to be honest, it is sad that FoxNews gave more time to Ron Paul than it did to Tancredo. Although, Paul's libertarian-ism is more genuine than whatever it is Tancredo is supposed to represent.
Rep. Duncan Hunter - Yawn. Over and over. He is merely trying to secure a cabinet appointment, and isn't doing great at that. Yawn.
On Charlie Rose the other night a reporter covering the 2008 Campaign made an interesting point. He mentioned that traditionally in his coverage of Presdiential elections Democratic voters tend to be pessimestic. On the other side, Republican voters have tended to be optimistic and looking forward to the election. To this reporter, this year that appears to be reversed. That sentiment summed up last night's debate to me. Other than Huckabee, the other candidates appear somehow off. They don't seem to inspire, rather they seem to beg for support. It's very odd. Among the "front-runnners" there does not appear to be anyone that draws strong support, rather the feeling is one of lesser-of-evils. That is how the debate felt to me - as if each of the candidates would rather appear less-of-a-loser than the other candidates, rather than the leader and winner. In addition, other than Giuliani, none of the men on stage seemed to give the impression of being a President. It's just an odd time for the Republican party, which is likely why so much stock is being placed in Fred Thompson.