From NBC's Chuck Todd
Thank goodness we sent one of the members of our political unit to Iowa to watch the ABC News debate on Sunday, it was the only chance we could give you some live commentary. And I won't rehash the highlights that my colleague Domenico Montanaro touched on so well while on the scene. He's had quite the weekend, from YearlyKos to a GOP debate in Iowa, it doesn't get more ideologically diverse than that. Now, my tape delayed thoughts:
This was Mitt Romney's debate in this sense: he made two newsmaking statements. 1) His shot on Obama which his campaign effectively pitched to Drudge in order to attempt to shape the early coverage of the debate. 2) his response to the "mistake" question potentially opened up the flip-flopping charges to an extent that would make John Kerry blush. Romney said he was pro-life in private in '94 but said he'd support the law; so does that mean he was playing politics in '94? And if he was simply playing to the politics of Massachusetts in '94, how do we know he's not playing to the politics of the Republican Party now?
It was a very bad answer and potentially problematic; his opponents will jump on that answer and resurrect the Mitt-flopping charges which dogged him in the first half of this campaign.
Before that statement, Romney looked and was treated like the frontrunner, and in a sense, as far as Iowa Republican are concerned, he is the frontrunner.
ABC did a good job allowing the straw poll battle between Romney, Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo show itself during the debate. And if one were handicapping this debate in terms of the straw poll, then both Brownback and Tancredo have to feel good about their performances. Tancredo, in particular, has shown the most improvement from his first debate at the Reagan Library to now. He's sounding more passionate in his beliefs, dare I say, Pat Buchanan-esque in some of his flourishes. He used to be attempting a very poor imitation of Buchanan's '96 campaign; now, arguably, that imitation is getting better. Don't be surprised if he's a surprise top 3 finisher at the straw poll; and if he is, he's my pick for a darkhorse in the January caucuses.
There were two bystanders at the debate, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani, more so than McCain, seemed more a part of this debate but both seemed to be fish out of Iowa waters. Because of the importance the 2nd and 3rd tier candidates have been putting on the Ames Straw poll, one could sense the urgency in the other candidates. McCain (who seemed serious but not as energetic as usual) and Giuliani werecontent to let the straw poll contestants dominate much of the debate.