Nobody won this debate. Giuliani and Romney were at their best when discussing specifics on economic issues. Romney scored with his Michigan-specific message, and the mention of Governor Jennifer Granholms flawed economic strategy for Michigan certainly wasnt wasted on his audience. Giuliani did look relaxed and comfortable in the format, but he didnt say anything that was anything new than the previous debates. Romney still looks like hes trying to be someone hes not. (Huckabee, maybe?) He is the CEO, the executive type who has a 10 point plan for everything, and when he tries to freelance too much and act like hes the guy next door, he cant pull it off.
The crowded stage hurt Fred Thompson because it was impossible to give him as much time as the rest of the top three. I dont know about the rest of the undecided Republican voters, but the jurys still out on Fred as far as Im concerned. He stumbled a bit out of the gate, but he did pick up his game as the debate went on. Mitt Romney really doesnt do himself much good trying to pull off those canned jokes, and his apparent jab at Fred didnt draw any blood, because Fred deftly deflected it: and I thought that I was going to be the best actor on this stage.
If Fred Thompson continues to improve on the stump and in these debates, I believe that this will hurt Mitt Romney. For all Mitts strengths, he still doesnt connect on a personal level with Republican voters. Thats something Im not sure he can fix. The argument for him is that we dont necessarily need someone running the country who we would want to have a beer with, we just need someone who can run the government well. I think Mitt would be that kind of President, but I am not convinced he can get past the Republican primaries or even if he does, that he can beat Hillary.
Rudy was ok, McCain was ok, Romney had a few good moments and a few minor gaffes, including his comments on consulting lawyers to determine when congressional authority was needed to go to war with Iran. Fred was disappointing. Sure this was his first debate, but he has no one to blame for that but himself. Folksy charm wont be enough. Thompson needs to go toe-to-toe with the frontrunners by laying out specifics, and he didnt do enough of that in this debate. He earned a second look, but those who say that he did enough to get into the top tier must have different standards for that than I do.