On the campus of the University of North Florida, four men gathered for one last push in the Sunshine State hoping to win the key tiebreaker primary to be held in 4 days. As the UNFL Chamber Singers left the stage after the national anthem, the stage was set for what is surely one of the most decisive debates of the campaign season. A re-established Romney looked for another strong campaign performance in order to solidify his new lead in Florida, while Gingrich's goal was to win a decisive victory in order to re-launch his South Carolinian election. So, who were the winners and losers, and what were the best and worst moments?
Mitt just needed to not slip up in order to keep his lead in the polls. He managed to fend off Gingrich's blows with ease, such as when Gingrich accused him of owning stock in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Romney was ready, pointing out that he personally does not make his investments, and turning the criticism right back on Gingrich, indicating that Gingrich owns the same stock that he does. He also managed to land a few punches of his own with regards to Gingrich's advertising campaign, which called Romney "the most anti-immigrant candidate," saying that it was distortion and slander.
Yup, Santorum managed to make himself heard at this debate. Don't expect him to win (or even take second) in the caucus, but do expect his poll numbers to rise. The most defining moment of the debate for Santorum was when he argued that Romney and Gingrich's attacks on each other had gone too far. He claimed that there was nothing wrong with Gingrich's consulting work for Freddie Mac and that there was nothing wrong with Mitt Romney being wealthy. He scored big points with an audience tired of the same old debate.
When asked a question about which Hispanic-Americans the candidates might appoint to their cabinet, each one mentioned Rubio. Gingrich even hinted at a Vice President run for Rubio.
Without defining moments to rail against the news media (and his one chance shot down by Romney), Gingrich couldn't seem to get anything started at the debate. His blows were easily parried by Romney, and he took criticism from all sides. Needing a big debate, Gingrich couldn't deliver and that could be the end of his presidential aspirations.
CNN Moderator Wolf Blitzer
Wolf and CNN didn't look good, as the candidates talked about whatever they wanted for however long they wanted. Wolf's inability to control the debates direction was not his only problem. Once again, the debate focused on the two frontrunners -- largely ignoring Rick Santorum and Ron Paul at some points. Wolf even received boos and heckles from the crowed as he would attempt to put the debate back on track, sometimes attempting to prevent candidates from responding to direct attacks against them.
The Candidates Best and Worst
Best: Mitt had a rather average debate performance, not riding as much of a roller coaster as some of the other candidates. His high moment, however, would be his attack against Gingrich's ad campaign. He highlighted exactly what many Americans hate about the political process- the divisive rhetoric
Worst: Santorum managed to pin Romney down on "Romneycare," pointing out that it was incredibly similar to "Obamacare." Mitt's regular excuses would not throw Santorum off and Romney will have to come up with some new answers to the same questions about his time as Governor of Massachusetts
Best: Gingrich was a big loser at the debate, but he did have some good moments. His plans for space, while drawing some criticism, show that he is still a grandiose candidate who thinks grandiose thoughts. His allusions to JFK and Reagan could serve him well, but probably won't be enough.
Worst: The rest of the debate. Gingrich did not have a strong showing at all, getting trounced by Paul, Romney AND Santorum. Gingrich has learned once again what it means to be a frontrunner in a national election.
Best: Rick's pins on Gingrich and Romney showed that he has the strength to debate as well. Santorum comes out of this debate looking like one of the most reasonable politicians around, especially after his answers regarding human space flight, even in the face of Space Coast voters, and his accusations of flip-flops to the two frontrunners.
Worst: Santorum could have used some more speech time, something he didn't really control. His worst moments were the ones where he was wasting his speech time stumbling over words or repeating himself. If he can clean up his presentation skills, he could transform into a very strong candidate, but probably a little too late.
Best: Paul had a better debate than he has previously. He stood aloof from the name calling and attacking, while excellently touting his own ideas. His best moment would have to be when he claimed he could care less about Romney v. Gingrich.
Worst: Paul didn't make many mistakes in this debate. His main problem is not making a huge impact on the debate. Banking on being the only one campaigning in Nevada and Colorado, he distanced himself from the crowd in Florida, meaning he didn't get as strong reactions from the crowd.
These debates, of course, have no technical winners or losers. Each voter decides their own winner and we can see those results at the polls come January 31st. The winner of Florida could easily be the winner of the national primary race and win the chance to face a formidable Barak Obama.