— From NBC's Chuck Todd
Since I didn't get to live-blog like my colleagues Mark and Domenico, I did keep notes as if I were live-blogging, so here are my running debate thoughts:
The potshots at Fred were something else. McCain's "bedtime" remark was bitter. Romney seemed to soften his attack on him a bit by being a little more good-natured about welcoming him. Meanwhile, Giuliani's smart remark about "Law and Order" was tough too. Overall, interesting tactic because all the potshots do serve Thompson well in this one respect: it entrenches him as one of the frontrunners. Just acknowledging his presence as the opening question helped Thompson become an immediate debate winner.
-- The first REAL question was about immigration and the moderators attempted to get Giuliani and Romney into a tiff. Romney cooperated and took a direct shot at Giuliani. Giuliani, however, decided NOT to engage Romney by name. He defended himself but didn't necessarily acknowledge Romney. That had to be a bit frustrating to the Romney folks.
-- Huckabee's FEDEX analogy on tracking immigrants was effective. The guy is good at simplifying a problem and talking, well, like a normal person.
-- During the wide shot, the dark suits of the entire field and the ultra white faces are an interesting contrast with the Democratic field. It's not a new thought but it is striking to those of us who watch these debates so closely.
-- Tancredo's Buchanan impersonation is getting better but it's still just that, an imitation.
-- Romney is trying just a bit too hard to draw out Giuliani...
-- Is anyone else surprised that Brownback decided to stay in this race after the Ames Straw Poll? His role in this primary seems more diminished.
-- Romney's abortion answer was closer to being pro-choice than he answered before. His campaign will flip out at that thought, but the fact that he singled out showing compassion for the mother in this potential abortion situation is telling.
-- Rudy deftly handled the gun question by turning it into a crime answer.
-- Ron Paul is the most fascinating candidate to watch at these debates for this one reason: you don't have an idea of where he'll come down on an issue. The airline answer and arming folks at airports was, um, unique.
-- McCain was methodical tonight; at points REALLY on his game and very funny; at other times he was almost OVERLY serious.
-- Giuliani is continuing to play for that McCain endorsement...
-- Why is Romney saying "if the surge is working"; it's interesting that he's leaving himself A LOT OF wiggle room on whether the surge is working. It left him wide open for that McCain attack.
-- Whoa, did Huckabee just invoke the Colin Powell "Pottery Barn" if you break it, you fix it, line? Also, while defending the need for the surge, it does sound like Huckabee did acknowledge that he thinks going into Iraq was a "mistake." BTW, what Ron Paul did for Giuliani in one of the first debates, he's doing for Huckabee this debate.
-- Did anyone else wonder when Ron Paul was going to simply say, "HEY KIDS, GET OFF MY LAWN!"
-- Hunter seems to enjoy of playing the role of his party's Irving Berlin... He's Mr. Patriot, always ready with a compliment that can get the audience to applaud. But his role in the primary seems less certain now than before. Just what wing of the party isn't being represented that needs Hunter in the race?
-- For all the sucking up that the Romney campaign does for Fox, you'd think the network's debate organizers would be a little nicer with their questions. Not so tonight. He seemed to get the brunt of the most negative-worded questions, be it from the moderators or the diner folks. It put Romney on the defensive for most of the night and guaranteed he was going to be one of tonight's losers.
-- Just one comment on the production; Overall, the moderators did a solid job; no editorial gripes from here (though the diner break seemed over-produced); That said, my only production comment has to do with the various Dallas Cowboy "stars" that were behind the candidates via the backdrops. I know Fox is fired up about their NFC contract (game 1 on Sunday) but as someone who can't stand the Cowboys, I wish I wasn't seeing that star staring at me behind every candidate.
-- Giuliani was strong on why he didn't sign the no-tax pledge. McCain struggled with the question (he was the other candidate on stage who didn't sign the pledge; the other six did). As for Giuliani, he answered in a very presidential way.
-- Giuliani's answer on the personal life issues wasn't great. He's answered it better. Overall, his attempt to waive off the issue is smart politics but I've heard him answer the question better. That said, it wasn't horrible.