All eyes were on Texas Governor Rick Perry in the first debate since he entered the race last month. Speculation was that Perry would have a weak to moderate performance because he has rarely ever debated, even in his campaigns for governor.
The moderators of the debate were intent to mix things up with the very first question and Perry didn’t hold back when asked to contrast his record on jobs with Mitt Romney.
“Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did Mitt,” jabbed Perry.
Romney more than held his own, firing back at Perry stating, “As a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessors created jobs at a faster rate than you did.”
The other candidates were forced to sit and watch Romney and Perry exchange barbs for the first several minutes of the debate, as the moderators unilaterally decided Romney v. Perry was what people wanted to see most.
The other candidates didn’t disappoint, though the clear loser was Michele Bachmann for not creating her own shining moment as she did at the June debate in New Hampshire. Her star has fallen almost as quickly as it rose as she has stumbled after her victory at the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa. Of course, Rick Perry added to her problems with an impressive announcement roll out on the weekend of her victory.
Bachmann has been plagued by missteps and internal campaign problems over the last three weeks. Her two top campaign advisors left their roles as Manager and Deputy Manager and she has made a decision to either skip New Hampshire altogether, or at the very least only give lip service to the First in the Nation Primary state.
Ambassador Jon Huntsman had a surprisingly strong performance last night as he struggles to get his campaign moving. Having spent almost 30 days in New Hampshire already, Huntsman can only point to 3 percent in the last NH Journal/Magellan poll, but he too has been plagued by internal campaign problems.
Over the summer, Huntsman’s national campaign manager resigned and his campaign advisers said they were shifting strategies from being Mr. Nice Guy (his previous strategy was to not say anything negative about anyone including President Obama), to a conservative attack dog as Huntsman began stressing his more conservative credentials and publicly attacking Obama, Romney and others.
Most recently, Hunstman fired his New Hampshire campaign director and replaced him with veteran operative Sarah Crawford, a smart move by all accounts, but again, illustrating a campaign that has yet to find it’s footing.
Last night, however, Huntsman seemed confident, prepared, and anxious to contrast his record on jobs as Governor of Utah with that of Perry and Romney.
“I have an offer for the two great governors over here, and I hate to rain on the parade of the great Lonestar governor, but as governor of Utah, we were the number one job creator during my years of service,” shot Huntsman at Perry.
“That was 5.9% when you were creating jobs at 4.9%. And to my good friend, Mitt, #47 is not going to cut it, my friend. Not when you can be first,” said Huntsman going after Romney.
Congressman Ron Paul had his weakest performance yet, after driving news for most of the week with his attack ad on Perry and their public back and forth on Perry and his past support for Al Gore’s campaign for President in 1988. Paul stammered and seemed at a loss for words at times, which is rare for the Texas congressman.
Newt Gingrich had a good night, especially as he threw out more attacks on the media and encouraged his opponents not to bite at the media’s desire to have the Republican candidates fighting each other.
Gingrich fired at moderator John Harris, “Well I am frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting with each other. You would like to puff this up into some giant thing. The fact is, every person up here understands Obamacare is a disaster.”
He continued saying, “I for one, and I hope all of my friends up here, are going to repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama who deserves to be defeated and all of us are committed as a team, whoever the nominee is, we are all for defeating Barack Obama.”
Senator Rick Santorum and Businessman Herman Cain also had good performances but when all the dust settled, the media succeeded in making the debate about Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Perry won the debate because he met, and even exceeded, expectations by proving that he is up to the task of a nationally televised debate and of being the frontrunner. Mitt Romney continued his strong command of the issues and remained very steady from beginning to end. And Jon Huntsman got people talking that maybe he can resurrect his campaign from ashes.
Stay tuned because the next debate is just 4 days away on CNN.