Mark Halperin, political correspondent for Time magazine, has another report card on the August 5 GOP candidates debate. As always, you can cast your vote on who won in the poll in the sidebar. Ron Paul won the Palousitics poll for the June 5 debate with 27% of the vote, followed by Sam Brownback and Mitt Romney.
Mitt Romney A-
Tan, rested, and ready to maintain the buzz of "looks and sounds like a president" that has fueled his rise in key states, including Iowa, where he leads in the polls. Defended his current pro-life position, after some shaky initial discomfort from a frontal assault by Senator Brownback, with a good balance of passion and confidence (although his saying that the recorded telephone message Brownback is delivering to voters are filled with falsehoods could come back to haunt him). Elevated himself via pre-canned lines, deftly delivered, about American military families and newest Republican prey Barack Obama, whom Romney purposefully strafed twice. Gracefully uttered the phrase "I'm not a carbon copy of President Bush" without seeming overtly disrespectful, and condemned detractors of the Bush-Cheney team without embracing the administration's policies. Backed off his March criticism of Rudy Giuliani's position on social issues and laid down a marker by declining to discuss the views of the other candidates. The Iowa audience responded well, yet it is unclear if this debate will help raise his national poll standing, which continues to be the missing piece in his assent to frontrunnerdom.
Rudy Giuliani B+
Accomplished his Job 1 (again): Survived another day in the socially conservative state of Iowa by not slipping up or being attacked onstage by his rivals. Came across as thoughtful and reasonable on foreign policy and national security, and broke somewhat from President Bush's strategy on the promotion of democracy overseas by saying some places are not ready for elections right away. At his most confident when talking terrorism, which he brought into many answers. Still uncomfortable talking abortion, however. Continued his clever campaign strategy of finding common ground with conservatives who disagree with some of his social positions by making deliberate swipes at the New York Times, Democratic presidential candidates, and tax-raising liberals. Might have taken it too far for his Iowan audience by seeming to berate questioner/journalist David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register, who is more of an Iowa institution than the butter cow at the State Fair.
John McCain B
If he hadn't lost momentum in the last few months, he would have come off as the frontrunner, based on his calm and assured performance. Seemed relaxed and secure with his answers on a variety of topics, and confident promoting himself as the obvious best choice. Nevertheless, he is well aware he will ascend if Iraq succeeds - or go down with the ship if it fails. Got to tell one of his favorite jokes about the vice presidency, describing it as an exercise in idleness with a big potential promotion based on the health of the boss, while also suggesting that Dick Cheney might have overstepped the job description. Typically, was not as aggressive in fighting for speaking time as the others, coming across as either subdued or of stature, depending on one's point of view.
Mike Huckabee B
Once again showed himself to be plain spoken, thoughtful, earnest, and pleasantly soft edged - all good fits for Iowa. Went populist on health care and got to talk about his impressive weight loss. Likely made a good impression on the casual voters just tuning into the race, and solidified the support that has been growing slowly but steadily after each strong debate performance. If he were running for governor of Iowa, he would be in excellent shape.
Sam Brownback B-
Stood his pro-life ground against Mitt Romney in a feisty attack-counter attack-attack exchange in advance of the Ames party straw poll next weekend, where he needs to make his mark. Must be an early riser, because he was stylistically on his game, with a sharp and alert performance. He enjoyed receiving the first question, and used that privilege to build momentum throughout.
Tommy Thompson C+
Had some fine moments where he reminded people why he is a respected former Wisconsin governor, which he has failed to do in previous debates. Went for drama on an Iraq War answer, but was so all over the map on the substance that he came off as muddled and unsure.
Ron Paul C+
Crowd-pleasing anti-war answers on Iraq will pump up web traffic and donations once again, lending him added significance in the nomination process. His tone was perhaps more academic than that of his opponents, but he remains undaunted by his long shot status. If the Republicans nominated a candidate based on who most moved the applause meter, Paul would be giving his acceptance speech next summer.
Duncan Hunter C-
Talked tough on Iraq, but sounded more like the former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (which he is) than a candidate for the highest office in the land (which he also is). At times seemed frustrated with his static situation.
Tom Tancredo D
Petulant on Iraq, libertarian on government's role in health care, and unhinged (or zealous, depending on your perspective) on everything else. Still more often than not appears extreme and rather unpresidential.