The final debate before the Iowa caucuses was held Thursday night, and it gave Iowans and people around the country a chance to see the candidates in action. Newt Gingrich, now the frontrunner in many polls, did nothing to diminish his status, although his lead this week is down significantly from just a week ago. Mitt Romney was strong once again and seems to be playing the strategy of "I'll let every other candidate lead for a while so he or she can self destruct" to perfection.
First, let's take a look at the polling in Iowa. As pollster Scott Rasmussen indicates, the GOP candidates have been on a roller coaster. As soon as someone achieves frontrunner status, the candidate starts to drop like a lead balloon:
Nationally, Gingrich holds the lead. According to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, among Republicans, Gingrich garners 40% support. Romney is in second with 23%, with each of the remaining candidates below the 10% mark.
The poll also points out one of the biggest problems for Gingrich to overcome: the perceived lack of electability.
Still, the poll found that Mr. Gingrich would confront a steep challenge in trying to win voters beyond his core constituency of conservatives.
Half of all voters say they wouldn't vote for Mr. Gingrich if he were the Republican nominee, compared with 44% who say they wouldn't vote for Mr. Romney—a slight improvement of three percentage points for him since November. Some 45% said they wouldn't vote for President Barack Obama.
In the Fox News Debate, Gingrich was asked right away about the electability issue. Here was his response:
It was an excellent response, and it shows why Gingrich has vaulted to the top of the polls. Republicans have been watching the debates. Gingrich is a great debater. Gingrich is not Mitt Romney. You do the math.
But, as Bachmann and Perry and Cain before him, Gingrich is now facing increased scrutiny, and the next few weeks and months will tell if voters feel comfortable enough with him to actually choose him as the GOP nominee.
All in all, Gingrich did very well in the debate, with a couple of exceptions. When Michele Bachmann hammered him on his $1.6 million fee to speak in favor of Freddie Mac, Gingrich was on the defensive. It's hard to defend being paid such a large sum to essentially lobby for the entity at the heart of the housing bust. Gingrich also played defense when Bachmann asailed him on partial birth abortion.
Mitt Romney, the continual second-runner, was not just steady. To say he was and leave it at that would be a discredit to the vision he has for America. More than any other candidate on the stage Thursday night, Romney showed his love for our country and his intent to keep America number one. In an age when Barack Obama is apologizing to other countries and painting America as a country past her prime, Romney is a breath of fresh air when he talks about how good America is and how good it can be.
Here's a clip of him talking jobs and responding to a Gingrich attack:
Ron Paul is like two candidates in one. Both have a tone and mannerisms which grate on the nerves. But Candidate #1 is one who will talk about the Constitution, the debt, and the limited role of government. The points are excellent, even though the delivery is lacking. Candidate #2, however, is the one, as in Thursday night's debate, who can't see the obvious danger lurking in Iran. This is the candidate who basically comes unhinged when foreign policy comes up, and shows the voters that he has no grasp of the threats facing America and the world.
In scoring the debate, I would call it a tie between Gingrich and Romney. Gingrich was very strong on the issue of judges, but weaker when attacked. Romney was steady throughout, and captured the idea of America as a great country in search of a real leader.
Next would be Michele Bachmann. Although dismissed in recent debates, Bachmann was strong throughout. She showed knowledge on every single issue, was steady, and took the fight to Gingrich. Rick Perry had a good showing as well. He has certainly improved during the debates, but his delivery still needs work. It's easy to see his face light up when he recognizes an issue or a sound bite that falls into one of his canned responses. You can see him waiting to launch it. Then... the words stumble out. He was much better, but he needs to keep building.
Who do you think won?