When political professionals get together to discuss things like ads, campaign tactics, and debates they know the only thing that matters in the end is: "Did it move votes?"
That's the question I was asking myself as I watched the five-man Fox debate last night from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Did it move votes?
Let's look at the individual candidates.
Mitt Romney: Romney got into a withering discussion on voting rights for felons with Rick Santorum. It was an exchange that helped both of them. It showed Santorum had the backbone to challenge Romney, and it showed Romney was not afraid to trade rhetorical punches with an opponent. Romney rallied when he was challenged on Bain Capital. "If someone wants a person who knows how the economy works, having worked in the real economy, I'm the guy." ?As the debate wore on, Romney found his rhythm and ended up with a pretty good night. ?Neutral Votes??
Newt Gingrich: Gingrich got the first question - about his Super PAC's attacks on Perry. Gingrich tried hard to zing Romney without appearing to zing Romney. Thirty minutes later he got his second question about unemployment insurance, and knocked it not just out of the park but into orbit saying unemployment programs should be tied to training programs. "99 weeks is an associate degree." ?On the question about food stamps and young people getting appropriate jobs to learn how to work, he was very persuasive and, railing against moderator Juan Williams, literally brought the crowd to its feet. ?This was the Professor Newt that many Republicans fell in love with in the early debates, not the Angry Newt they didn't like at all. ?Last question of the night brought the Angry Newt back as he was talking about a Romney Super PAC ad that accuses Gingrich of being weak on abortion. ?Plus Votes??
Ron Paul: The first question Paul got was about his attack ads. "I think if an ad points out someone's voting record it's fine. Only problem I had with the Santorum ad is I couldn't say everything I wanted to say in 60 seconds." Paul spent the night lecturing on the elements of his Libertarian programs, which was interesting and informative but his answers on foreign policy - we shouldn't have killed Osama bin Laden - caused the audience to get restive. ?Negative Votes??
Rick Santorum: As noted above, Santorum took the opportunity early in the debate to go right after Romney. He won that argument, and helped people who were thinking about Santorum make up their minds in his favor. Unfortunately, he faded into the background for the rest of the debate by falling back into his pattern of Senate-Speak which dampened the effect. ?Plus Votes ??
Rick Perry: Perry got his 10th Amendment argument in during a discussion of voting rights legislation. The Twitter-verse exploded when he said the state of South Carolina is "at war" with the Justice Department reminding one and all that the first shots of the Civil War had been fired at Fort Sumter. Perry got in the best line of the night. Chief moderator Bret Baier kept threatening to "bring back the bell" when the candidates went over their time. After Ron Paul did his anti-foreign-involvement riff, Perry said "The noise you were looking for is a gong." ?No Votes