The Sunday Morning Debate
Sunday January 8, 2012
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I woke up early, so you didn't have to …
The NBC "Meet the Press" debate this morning was as different from last night's ABC debate as curling is from ice hockey.
Last night's activity (with a few exceptions) was a Study in Statesmanship. To continue the metaphor, last night the candidates used their brooms to coax the stone five degrees one way or another. This morning they used oratorical sledge hammers to send the stone flying back to the other end - Romney's end.
It appeared that each of the non-Romney candidates and their handlers came to same conclusion: "I have to differentiate myself from the field not by attacking the field, but by showing I am the most effective attacker of Romney."
Newt Gingrich (currently in fourth place in the Suffolk University/UNH poll at nine percent) came out swinging directly at Mitt Romney establishing in the first five minutes this was not going to be the snooze fest last night's debate was.
Here are the latest results from the tracking poll:
Romney - 35% (Previously 39%)
Paul - 20 (Previously 17)
Huntsman - 11 (9)
Gingrich - 9 (10)
Santorum - 8 (9)
Perry - 1 (1)
Undecided - 15
Gingrich called Mitt Romney's claim to being a citizen-politician (as opposed to a career-politician) "pious baloney" thus setting the tone for the 90-minute debate. It was announced last night that Las Vegas casino titan, Sheldon Adelson, has put $5 million into a Super PAC on Newt's behalf. When asked about his claims that Romney has been hiding behind his Super PAC's "false" charges, Gingrich seemed very, very well informed about the citations which his Super PAC would be using to bolster Gingrich's arguments against Romney.
Problem is, candidates and Super PACs are supposed to have no coordination, so look for Gingrich to be quizzed about his intimate knowledge of the contents of his Super PACs video on the campaign trail between now and Tuesday.
Rick Santorum was happy to weigh in against Romney as well proving that with his position at one of the center lecterns he was ready to go toe-to-toe with Romney while standing toe-to-toe with Romney. I suggested yesterday that I thought I had detected a note of desperation in Santorum's campaigning and got emails from a number of his supporters in disagreement.
If Santorum comes in next-to-last in New Hampshire - and I'm not predicting that will happen - the national narrative will be about how quickly his Iowa momentum bounce dissipated.
Rick Perry used the debate to fix his "Oops" moment from the debate on November 9 about which I Tweeted (@richgalen, if you're not yet following me) "Brilliant recovery by Rick Perry on the dreaded 'Three Departments.' Two months too late." Nevertheless it was an appealing moment which the live audience immediately got and applauded.
Ron Paul, as always, used every question to cite his long-held Libertarian views which, through constant repetition have gone from startling to comfortable - you don't have to agree with him, but you can almost recite his answer along with him .
Jon Huntsman, who has staked his entire campaign on doing well in New Hampshire was sane, reasoned and, for the most part, boring. Like a garage band he sings every song at the same volume (with the dial set at two, not eleven) but it is modulation which adds drama and Huntsman was as dramatic as the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle.
As an aside, I am opposed to these candidates trotting out their children as evidence of their patriotism, parenting skills, or as emotional props. Gingrich, Santorum and Huntsman have all done it, and they should stop.
For his part, Mitt Romney appeared ready for the onslaught. Unlike some of the earlier debates when he would get agitated by attacks (see: "I'll bet you $10,000") this morning he kept his cool, spoke slowly, articulated his defense and allowed the discussion to move on.
Romney is still leading here by 15 percentage points, but that lead has been steadily shrinking in the tracking polls. It is still hard to see how he loses in New Hampshire, but if he doesn't get over 30 percent (also unlikely) then the chattering class will immediately claim that the Romney ceiling has been rebuilt and it is again anyone's nomination.
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