Paul managed to evoke cheers in considerable volume. It's a sign that he might, as some Examiner writers have suggested, actually draw enough true believers in his anti-war/pro-gold standard platform to Ames on Saturday to win the straw poll.
Paul's comments did provoke one strong interjection, contrary to the debate's rules, from former Sen. Rick Santorum. He insisted heatedly that a nuclear Iran would be a threat and noted that Iran has been killing Americans since 1979. And he pointed out accurately that he sponsored legislation authorizing sanctions against Iran.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also made some interesting comments, reflecting the fact that he started out in politics as a history professor. He noted that it was the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's signing of the Kemp-Roth tax cut, for which he voted as a congressman.
And he pointed out that communist spies actually did infiltrate the government in the 1940s and that it makes sense to determine that government appointees are loyal to the United States.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the candidate who has been leading most polls (though not by impressive margins), is not actually competing in the straw poll this year, though he won it four years ago. He seemed during much of the debate to be a bemused spectator, chiming in from time to time with denunciations of President Barack Obama for not knowing how the economy works and for making exactly the wrong choices on economic issues.
There was one moment of possible electricity between Romney and Pawlenty. Back in June, after he had just denounced Romney's Massachusetts health care plan, with its individual mandate, as "Obamneycare," Pawlenty pointedly declined to repeat that charge in the New Hampshire debate.
When he was asked whether he would do so this time, he promptly complied, adding that the Obamacare mandate violated the 10th Amendment.
Romney's reply was prepared and smooth, and the clash was far less harsh than that between the Minnesota non-twins.