Erika Johnsen

From Guy: For those who were able to catch it, this morning's Meet The Press debate on NBC was sharper and crisper than last night's disappointment.  Mitt Romney's competitors finally seemed to realize that they need to directly challenge the frontrunner if they hope to defeat him.  Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman all landed blows against Romney's record and political career during the program's opening stanza.  The former Massachusetts Governor defended and counter-punched fairly effectively, but emerged a bit bruised.  On the whole, each candidate performed very ably -- no one had an obviously poor performance.  Santorum was strong on the role of government and the perils of a nuclear Iran.  Rick Perry impressed with answers on jobs, leadership and the importance of right-to-work laws.  Ron Paul focused on liberty and drew meaningful distinctions between rights and entitlements.  Gingrich hit one out of the park on overbearing EPA regulations.  Jon Huntsman performed very well, touting his excellent economic plan and endorsing Paul Ryan's plan.  Romney recovered nicely from the first segment pile-on and remained steady.  I had to chuckle when Newt and Romney both claimed to be unfamiliar with attacks being leveled at the other, then recounted them chapter and verse.  And would Gingrich repeatedly credit the New York Times as a great authority on Republican candidates under any other circumstance?  Politics, baby!

NBC News and its partners did a credible job, and vastly improved on ABC's effort from last night.  That said, most of the questions were framed in Lefty-speak and were rooted in un-conservative assumptions.  The good news?  None of the Republican candidates played along.  This may be one of the benefits of this cycle's breakneck debate schedule: The GOP field has gotten pretty good at identifying and handling gotchas.  The latest Suffolk poll contains good news for Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, and bad news for Rick Santorum.  Romney still leads comfortably, but his lead has slipped into the mid-30s.  An outlier, or a trend?  We'll know soon enough; polls open in New Hampshire in less than 48 hours.

From Erika: While Mitt Romney enjoyed pretty smooth sailing in last night's debate, the other candidates at least tried to take some of the wind out of his sails in the debate this morning. I'm not sure whether the voters will decide if they succeeded, but Huntsman, Gingrich, and Santorum all took some hefty swings at the former Massachusetts governor.

To kick things off, Rick Santorum weirdly attacked Romney for not continually running for office and standing up for conservative principles:

To which Newt followed up, telling Romney to "drop the pious baloney":

Ouch. And Huntsman, of course, had to refute Romney's (rather off-base) attack of last night, for serving as an ambassador under a Democrat:

A little weak there, Gov. Romney. Overall, however, Romney was able to move past the verbal fisticuffs and still had several great moments. I didn't think there was anything too major to tip any of the candidates' campaigns in a positive or negative direction, but the voters shall decide on Tuesday!


Erika Johnsen

Erika Johnsen is a Web Editor for Townhall.com and Townhall Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @erikajohnsen.