Hugh Hewitt

Mitt Romney won the last night's debate because he emerged as a plausible, indeed compelling match-up to Hillary.

Rudy hit him hard --and below the belt, with the "sanctuary mansion" shot. But so what? We aren't expecting the Clinton's to play nice. Our candidate will have to be able to be "strong" without being "mean," superior on the issues and intellect and ahead on the key test of "Who shares my values?" That's Romney, and I expect the Clintons know it and will work overtime to take him off the board in the next six weeks.

What did Romney do when Rudy swung low?

Romney counter-punched. Hard. And for as long as it took. That exchange was the key to this debate. It is why Romney won. Hands down. Going away.

Romney did the same thing when Huck went all "up from poverty" as a counter to Romney's criticism in the "in-state tuition for illegal aliens" exchange.

Many GOPers who are leaning Romney in their minds wanted some show of knuckles and they got it. "Could Romney go one-on-one with Clinton, Inc?" they wondered.

"Is Romney tough enough, or too nice for the show?" Tonight the skeptics got their answer: Romney will take on Hillary in the fall debates and beat her. Handily.

Said Katherine Jean Lopez at in the most telling of all live-blog comments:

So Far [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

this is Romney's best debate performance yet. He reminds us he has experience and outside of Washington, he's tackled difficult issues, and does not let his temper get the best of him with a New York bully (something that will come in handy).

K-Lo is right. The GOP race is all about beating Hillary in the debates of October. Rudy swung hard and didn't phase Mitt. Huckabee played the victim card and Mitt refused to let him do so. Mitt wins both rounds. And the debate.

And, I think, the nomination.

Other post-debate observations:

Some important center-right pundits can't find their way to saying a definitively good thing about Romney. Are they anti-Mormon or just concerned that the Mormon handicap is too great?

Some folks refuse to recognize the blindingly obvious: A vote for Huck is a vote for Rudy, so don't pull for Huck and tell me you can't support Rudy in the general.

Ron Paul got a raw deal from CNN. I don't care for his isolationism or for some of his supporters, but MSM bias is on parade when Ron Paul doesn't get to say hello for 35 minutes and then gets a video question on conspiracy theorists.

Hugh Hewitt

Hugh Hewitt is host of a nationally syndicated radio talk show. Hugh Hewitt's new book is The War On The West.