The Washington Post calls the YouTube debate "the most spirited debate of the 2008 presidential campaign." More: "The clash between the two [Rudy and Romney] was only the start of what resembled a raucous family argument, stoked by sharp questions that touched on the most contentious issues in the Republican contest: immigration policy, abortion, gun control, same-sex marriage, race and the Confederate flag."
The New York Times used the word "slashing" in its lead to describe this debate. "The debate also reflected a new reality in the Republican race: Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, played a central role, demonstrating how he had come from behind to show strength in several recent polls of Iowa caucusgoers."
The Boston Globe: "The debate - the eighth major face-off for the Republican candidates - reflected a GOP primary race that has become more unsettled and more negative. The strong showing in recent Iowa polls by former governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas - once dismissed as an affable also-ran - has Romney, Giuliani, and McCain on edge, as they try to figure out how to keep Huckabee from upsetting what was becoming a three-person race."
The New York Daily News highlights last night's Romney-Rudy clashes, but writes, "It was a tough night for Giuliani, who as the national front-runner seemed to take the most shots - often aimed at the more liberal policies he championed as mayor. Giuliani seemed to field them with less deftness than he has in past debates. He got booed when he pressed his immigration fight with Romney too long, and again by the solidly Republican audience when he suggested that government should be able to set limits on gun ownership."
Romney was the focus of most of the attacks last night, the LA Times writes. "Romney was attacked from all sides, on multiple issues. Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani accused him of employing illegal immigrants, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee suggested that he was heartless for opposing college scholarships for immigrants. Sen. John McCain of Arizona faulted Romney for refusing to concede that an interrogation practice called waterboarding amounts to torture. And former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee -- via a campaign video -- chided the former governor for changing his position on abortion."
NBC's Chris Donovan notes that Romney got it wrong when he said the Red Sox World Series championship drought was 87 years. It was actually 86 years.
The Des Moines Register's Yepsen scores the debate for Huckabee. "While other candidates fumbled around when dealing with biblical questions, Huckabee's background as a Baptist minister came in handy when he said that there are some things in the Bible no one can understand, so it's more important to follow the things that are understandable. Huckabee also fended off an attack from Romney over Huckabee's plan to provide in-state tuition for children of undocumented workers in Arkansas." On Giuliani and Romney, he said they "didn't have such a good night." Others: "McCain had his strongest debate of the campaign." "Thompson hasn't been in that many debates, so this one was easily his best. He was cool, good-humored and tried to offer some specific answers at times."
Human Events' Jennifer Rubin: "When we got to real questions we saw why Governor Mike Huckabee is soaring in the Iowa polls, McCain has made a comeback (but may not win a primary), Mitt Romney is not a complete candidate, Rudy Giuliani has a reputation as a scrappy fighter and Fred Thompson has such promise but has disappointed so many conservatives. For Huckabee this was the debate he needed to cement his image as an articulate, utterly engaging social conservative. He did so."
The New York Times' Collins unloads on the entire GOP field. This excerpt sums things up: " It was suspenseful, waiting for the next shoe to drop, for the next candidate to go whacky."