From NBC's Chuck Todd
This debate will be known for two things: 1) an uneven debut for Thompson; the opening answer he gave was that of a VERY nervous first-time candidate and there was a noticeable pause that was striking in a bad way; every evening newscast grabbed that moment and because of that some may believe Thompson's performance was worse than it actually was. 2) these candidates were ALL uncomfortable having to answer some detailed, non-soundbite applicable questions. The candidates better be glad most of the rest of the debates will be on general topics rather than focused on the economy where clearly these guys didn't do their homework.
Outside of the Thompson debut (which did get better as the debate went on but was still unsteady at too many moments to quiet critics), it's hard to see how any of the other candidates will go up or down based on their performance today. Giuliani and Romney stood out as they just seemed more comfortable with the main topic of this debate, the economy. Plus, the two clashed a bit over the line-item veto, a fascinating distinction that apparently will be decided in the courts instead of the ballot box.
McCain was less a part of this debate than others because this debate was NOT about national security issues. In '00, McCain hit a roadblock when the debate turned to economic issues. It's clear that this topic isn't his passion. Still, he had a few good moments.
But it's important to go back to Thompson because this debate was about him. Bottom line: he's got a lot of work to do. He did get better but I doubt he quieted critics; He was more on top of the issues than some may have tought but was he really a frontrunner when it comes to knowing what the issues are? That's the BIGGER question.
BTW, a few bad moments for Rudy and Romney to point out because I think we'll hear about them from each camp: Romney's comments that he'd consult "attorneys" on whether he'd attack Iran is going to be mocked by his opponents for a few days (if our email inbox is any judge). It, POTENTIALLY, opened up an inexperienced argument against Romney. As for Giuliani, his answer about policing the internet culturally probably didn't resonate on a personal level to parents and McCain picked up on it. That's why he jumped in and attacked those predators and pornographers personally. It was one of McCain's stronger moments. Giuliani was a bit technocratish.
We'll have more later, see you on the tube tonight and online VERY early tomorrow.