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June 14, 2011

Who Won the Republican Debate?

Last night's Republican presidential debate was the first to include nearly all the leading contenders, but as the Washington Post notes "most of them remain largely unknown nationally, a factor that could explain their reluctance to go at one another. At this early stage, they are introducing themselves to a nationwide audience, and testing their competitors' strengths and vulnerabilities."

The New York Times says the candidates "repeatedly passed on the opportunity to seize upon the fissures that have roiled the Republican Party for most of the last two years. They presented a forceful, and nearly unified, attack against Mr. Obama, especially on the economy, the budget deficit and health care."

Walter Shapiro: "The best justification for the debate -- which CNN tried to enliven with high-tech razzmatazz -- was that it was the kickoff of a TV series that will run non-stop until next spring. The purpose of the opening episode was to introduce the characters (six men and a woman marooned behind identical lecterns) rather than to advance the plot."

So who won? Some reactions follow:

Ron Fournier: "The mitts were off Mitt. Romney received a pass from a strikingly timid field of rivals in Monday night's debate... There's a rule of thumb in political debates: When a front-runner leaves the stage unscathed, he's still the front-runner. And, thus, regardless of the sound and fury of the debate itself, he wins."

Josh Marshall: "Romney seems like the only serious candidate on the stage. In a sense that's not surprising because he's almost the only serious candidate in the race."

Howard Kurtz: "Michele Bachmann all but stole the show at the Republican presidential debate... Bachmann is relatively new to the national stage, but as anyone who has watched her in action understands, she knows how to play this game."

Dave Weigel: "Pawlenty failed to break out, again. Even his hockey reference was less of an easy applause line than Romney's. Bachmann, who's always underrated, was as poised and quick as she's ever been. Herman Cain suffered from the presence of buzzy candidates and from a lack of new things to say. Gingrich didn't live up to his promise as the guy with the out-of-the-box ideas everyone else has to ponder. And Romney won."

Andrew Sullivan: "Romney is the clear leader here - head and shoulders above the rest. Bachmann wins the expectations game. Cain wasn't outstanding or novel enough to stand out. Pawlenty was just dreadful - failing on almost every level. Gingrich was incoherent and nasty. Santorum was his usual doctrinaire self, and utterly unappealing. Ron Paul had his moments, but the novelty is wearing thin."

Brad Phillips: "Tonight, Michele Bachmann became a star. She successfully reversed her image from one of a scary fringe figure to one of a thoughtful, articulate, and serious contender. The storyline that dismisses Bachmann and Sarah Palin as two women fighting for the same turf ends tonight. There's a clear difference between the two: Michele Bachmann demonstrated the discipline and seriousness to win. Sarah Palin has not."

As I noted last night, unless you think Rep. Michele Bachmann can win the GOP nomination, there's still a real opening for another candidate to enter this race and challenge Mitt Romney.


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