If Obama had Tivoed the debate, he would have seen a full crowd in the glitzy cavernous hall in St. Anselm's College. Something of a contrast to the empty seats at the top level of the gleaming Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami, even though tickets ran as low as $44.
The standard rule in politics is to hire a hall that's not big enough for the crowd you expect. This was no problem for the Obama campaign in 2008, when it filled venues as large as Invesco Field in Denver and Grant Park in Chicago.
The comparative crowd sizes Monday night suggest that, as in the 2010 elections, the balance of enthusiasm has shifted to the other side.
There were two clear winners in the Republican debate. I have argued that there is no frontrunner for the Republican nomination, but Mitt Romney certainly looked like one. His clear vulnerability is his Massachusetts health care program, with its Obamacare-like mandate to buy health insurance.
But no one called him on it. Tim Pawlenty, who had criticized "Obamneycare" on "Fox News Sunday," seemed to take that back at St. Anselm's. Romney responded by saying that if Obama had asked his advice, he would have said that Obamacare wouldn't work.
In doing so, he showed the sense of command that is one quality Americans usually seek in a president. And he continually brandished his businessman's credentials by attacking Obama's economic policies as disastrous.
The other clear winner was Michele Bachmann, who took the occasion to announce her candidacy and who was clearly well prepared for likely questions.
She batted back CNN moderator John King's suggestion that she was irresponsible in opposing an increase in the federal debt limit by quoting another statement opposing it -- by then-Sen. Barack Obama. She declined King's invitation to pick a fight with those who favor abortion in cases of rape and incest. She cited her opposition to the $700 billion TARP legislation in 2008 by saying that principle comes before party.
And she made sure to mention that she had worked as a tax attorney, raised five biological children and provided a home for 23 foster children.
Pawlenty and Bachmann, both from Minnesota and occasional antagonists in politics there, seem headed for a confrontation in the Republican straw poll to be held in Ames, Iowa, on Aug. 13. That's a contest that puts a premium on enthusiasm -- you have to get people to drive up to four hours on a Saturday morning.
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