Passed his first high-profile test with aplomb. Showed the sunny-side-up optimism, smoothly relaxed demeanor and mechanically thorough preparation that have won over donors and talk show hosts alike. Never rushed his answers or got flustered. Deftly told a Ted Kennedy joke and closed with a stone cold hit on Hillary Clinton/Harry Reid/Nancy Pelosi. Voters getting their first real look at Romney probably liked what they saw. Still has to explain his shifted positions and return harder foreign policy volleys.
Showed his different-kind-of-Republican chops, along with preternatural calm and homespun charm. Didn't brag much on his record in Arkansas, but offered a plain-spoken, gubernatorial confidence, and had the second best presentation after Romney. Will enjoy some morning show and cable net play with his cheeky responses to the Schwarzenegger presidential eligibility question and his unneighborly crack about the former Arkansan-dwelling Clintons.
Sold his New York City governing record (reducing crime and welfare rolls), and allowed his 9/11 heroics to take a backseat for a change. Survived repeated queries on his pro-choice record and personal stance on abortion, but seemed a little uncertain, at one moment too glib, and surprisingly unprepared to frame the issue on his terms. Also survived Sunni-Shia essay question, but in a halting, deer-in-the-headlights manner, revealing the dreary labor of his debate prep.
Stayed more consistently on his (libertarian) message than anyone else on stage. Might see a spike in Internet donations from voters who oppose big government and the Bush foreign policy. But made no effort to contrast his views with those of his competitors, and at times seemed to encourage the no-chance, alterna-goof role.
Drove hard to the center to revive his nomination fortunes by reciting his record of bipartisanship, support for stem cell research, open stance on immigration and fiery criticism of the Bush White House's management of the Iraq war. Was too grim and stiff, and did little to take the edge off the "too old" doubts by repeatedly reciting from his own stump speech and relying on obviously rehearsed statements. Despite his experience, actually seemed nervous at the start.
Grabbed numerous chances to emphasize the issues of life and family that animate his candidacy. Passionate (in a Kansas-y sort of way), but veered wildly between sharp and mush. Despite a golden opportunity to draw a line in the sand on the party accepting a pro-choice nominee, he demurred.
Missed moments all over the place to move up in the pecking order. Seemed alternately earnest, cranky and a bit distracted.
Smartly took plenty of opportunities to emphasize his national security bona fides, but at times appeared more groping than galvanized. Punctured his own message by first taking credit for President Bush's decision to construct a fence along the Mexican border but then complaining that the border was still too porous.
Failed to present his resume as governor of Virginia and impress that he is a true conservative, compared to the men he has previously mocked as "Rudy McRomney." Harried and anxious to get out his talking points, he stammered his responses and often was hard to follow.
Amazingly, passed up chance after chance to highlight his unconditional, candidacy-defining anti-immigration stance. Neglected to show his anti-immigration fervor when talking about other issues. Memo to a single-issue candidate: TALK ABOUT YOUR SINGLE ISSUE EVERY CHANCE YOU GET.
Friday, May 04, 2007
Time Magazine's Mark Halperin scores the winners of last night's Republican presidential debate. My guy, Mike Huckabee, did awesome. He is one of the only bona fide conservatives in the race. Other candidates underestimate him at their peril. I've seen Huckabee live and in person, and he's the real deal.