From NBC's Chuck Todd
Big night for Mike Huckabee. On a night when many voters were looking at
him in a different light thanks to the dramatic increase in attention the media's been giving him, he delivered big time. Unlike previous debates, he didn't open with a joke but instead sounded very presidential in his first answer; He had his share of one-liners, but he seemed to balance the funny with more presidential rhetoric.
Huckabee stepped up his game tonight. The rest of the field better be glad that the GOP debates end on Dec. 12, a full three weeks before the Iowa caucuses and that's enough time for his potentially dominant debate performances to fade from voter memories. Surprisingly, he didn't get attacked too much. Romney took a shot, but nothing too harsh (Iowa nice, right?). Most importantly for Huckabee, he'll likely be declared the winner of this debate by every member of the Amtrak Corridor media elite and that should get him some serious buzz. The question for the rest of the field: when will others begin to take him as a more serious threat.
Two other candidates stood out simply because they seemed to dominate most of the conversation: Romney and Rudy. If someone was watching this debate without knowing the standing of the candidates in the polls, one would easily assume the two frontrunners were Romney and Rudy with no one else really a close third.
Giuliani was not at his best, really started off slow as his "santuary mansion" line was not delivered very well; Al,so, someone in his campaign should help him learn to give a MUCH shorter answer when talking about guns. The best part of Giuliani's performance was his YouTube video; it was the funniest of the bunch.
Romney had an uneven night as well, at some moments, he was outstanding
and at other times, just awful. It was THAT uneven of a performance. He seems to be struggling with getting very aggressive against Giuliani and trying to softly jab at Huckabee. He's not in an easy position.
The other candidate that certainly made an impression was McCain, thanks to his sobriety. It's interesting, Huckabee-McCain would be a fascinating ticket because Huckabee likes to be the sunny good cop while McCain seems to be getting comfortable becoming the (sometimes) pessimistic bad cop. McCain was strong but bordered on angry too many times to make me think he's going to play well in Iowa (a place that he needs to start getting some traction).
The other major candidate, Fred Thompson, seemed more comfortable in this debate than in his first two outings but just because he was comfortable doesn't mean he enough great moments. He seemed like a supporting member of the cast rather than a centerpiece of the debate. His shots at Giuliani and Romney were probably lines that sounded better in his head than when he delivered them.
As for the rest of the field: Paul does a pretty good job of sounding rational when posed with somewhat irrational questions. His trilateral commission answer didn't sound conspiratorial even though the whole premise of the question is just that: conspiratorial.
And Hunter and Tancredo really don't belong on stage anymore. Guys, it's time to go; the other six have proven viability; the two of you haven't and if it wasn't for the debates, you'd have no platform. Frankly, many people probably forgot the two men were still running since it had been so long since the Republicans last debated.
A final thought on the editorial content of the debate. CNN probably didn't win over any conservative viewers who tuned in to find out if the network was friendly toward conservatives. The abortion questions were questions that Planned Parenthood and NARAL would have posed to pro-life candidates, not what Republican voters would have posed to these Republican candidates. Ditto with some of the gun question and the gay rights questions. The candidates probably weren't happy that CNN chose to linger on the retired general who asked about gays in the military.