There were some interesting developments in the debate tonight. There were losers and winners and some twists and turns in the running battle between Romney and Perry, something CNN clearly still believes constitute the two front runners in this race.
Loser: Rick Perry. Rick Perry went on the attack against Romney - he had to do so. But at times it came of alternately as petty and desperate. Rick Perry made some good points on his own plans but it was overshadowed by his interruptions of Romney when it was not his turn to speak, and his continued attacks on Romney and his lawn care company and illegal immigrant employees. He also paused a little too often during his answers. There's nothing wrong with that but in his debate history he hasn't come across as well spoken and this amplified that. In general he did not come off well.
Winner, barely: Rick Santorum came out swinging at Romney. Some of those exchanges were also a bit harsh but Santorum needed to do something to get on the map quickly. Whether that strategy moves his numbers in time remains to be seen. His best part of the debate was actually towards the end when he pointed out that he had won in the liberal/swing state of Pennsylvania three times as a conservative. That's a considerable accomplishment and it's something that he should have been pointing out far sooner.
Winner barely: Mitt Romney. Romney handled himself well in most of the questions and discussions but he came across in the exchanges with Perry as condescending and he still didn't answer as strongly as possibly on Romneycare. I think he was diminished by the exchanges too, and he wins by only by holding his own against Perry. That probably helps him in the long run as he sees Perry as his real competition in terms of money and organization (as opposed to Cain), and he came across as the better of the two.
Winner barely: Herman Cain. Herman held his own on his 9-9-9 plan although he didn't answer Romney's point on the Nevada state tax question well enough. He needs to explain that better as his point about apples (state taxes) and oranges (federal taxes) got lost in the mix and Romney took the point. Cain needs to roll out the details on his plan more effectively and soon - saying his own analysts found it revenue neutral is not enough. But Cain was helped by two things - his amiable handling of the exchanges and his conservative Republican competitor Perry, doing exactly the opposite in his exchanges, coming across as a little bit hostile.
Loser: Michele Bachmann. Bachmann clearly came into the debate looking to have the best sound bites and she succeeded. She made points against Cain as well on the National Sales Tax too. But unfortunately she seemed like an also-ran. I'm not sure that's her fault or the formula of the debates, but her approach to have the good sound bites was probably not the right one to take given that there were deeper dives into Cain's 9-9-9 plan and there were some very good discussions on details - to which even Bachmann contributed. But the sound bites seems misplaced among the rest of the discussions. The other thing for Bachmann is that she, like Santorum had to really move the dial but she didn't.
Loser, barely: Ron Paul. Paul made good points and didn't come across as his sometimes kookier self. But he probably didn't change anyone's mind for better or worse, so he only loses by standing still.
Winner: Newt Gingrich. I can't believe I'm saying it but it is what it is. He was positive in his disagreement with Cain, he was quite specific in his economic proposals and he rightly pointed out that Cain's plan, while simple on the surface is more complex underneath and requires a lot of time to enact. He had some humorous lines and seemed best prepared for the debate. He won because he remained positive and he probably moved the dial for himself in the right direction - however slightly. None of the rest of the candidates made much headway or lost ground on the night. Was Newt a big winner? Probably not but I'm not sure he needed a big win tonight, a couple of percentage points would make his candidacy that much closer to the top tier group and that buys him time to take the next step.