Tonight’s winner? I’m biased, but I think Huck did particularly well, especially at the end.
He had solid answers (especially on taxes and the question about the Bible), was as likeable as expected (my wife, who had never heard him before, was impressed), and avoided making any significant blunders (qualification: I missed the first 45 minutes of the debate).
Romney was fairly strong until he got dusted up by McCain on torture. After that point, he seemed a little off kilter.
Everyone else? As expected.
One more note on Huckabee: the 24 undecided primary voters said they were all still undecided, but Huckabee was mentioned by name as being the winner.
A few other thoughts:
Bryron York from the Corner: [Huckabee’s] clearly on the rise in Iowa and South Carolina, and perhaps elsewhere, and my guess is that people who are considering supporting him liked what they saw tonight.
Patrick Ruffini: Huckabee actually won. I wasn’t a fan of his previous debate performances, but he dialed down the schtick. This was a debate performance he needed at a critical time.
Erick at RedState: Mike Huckabee scored the debate points on rhetoric and is the winner of this debate. He did really well. He showed up Romney. He showed up Rudy. If Mike could convince me he’s actually a free market guy, I’d be tempted.
Update: Hugh keeps making the case that Romney won big. And he cites a lot of Beltway folk, too. But Patrick Ruffini comes down stronger on the side of Huckabee’s win last night.
But here’s the real news: in both Florida and Iowa, Huckabee was ranked as the clear winner by the voters. In Florida, where the voters were undecided, Huckabee took 44% to Romney’s 13%. Of 1000 Iowa voters (not all undecided), Huckabee took 32% to Romney’s 16%.
Two questions: (a) is this indicative of a cocoon around the conservative pundits, and (2) does this mean that a vote for Mitt is a vote for Rudy? If Huckabee wins Iowa, that has to be a plausible argument, right?
Updated again: Dean Barnett of the Weekly Standard (scroll down):
It was a very strong night for the campaign’s “it” candidate. I thought the “What would Jesus do?” question about the death penalty might trip him up. Shows you what I know. By the time [Huckabee] was done, I was staring at the TV agape. Oh my, is he a smoothie and a charmer.
Then did the almost unimaginable–he got even stronger when he got the chance to discuss the Bible. Yes, he had a home court advantage on the question, but he exploited it brilliantly. The line about finite man not being able to comprehend an infinite God touched even this non-Christian. If Huckabee should become president, that will be his “I paid for this microphone” moment. The man connects. I can imagine a lot of people, especially a lot of Iowan people, heard that skillful answer and their minds snapped shut. They found their candidate.
A personal note to all my sophisticated East Coast friends: Don’t wait for the Christmas rush–stop underestimating Huckabee now. Unless the other guys can be a lot more effective at landing some leather on him than they were last night, he may win Iowa by 20 points.