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GOP Debate in SC ...

My Take:  John McCain was the clear winner tonight.  Both in terms of style and substance, he performed better tonight than he has in any previous debate.  He was energetic and humorous, which undermines concerns about his age.  He also drove home important parts of his message, including the fact that he was right about the Surge from day one -- that he would fight pork-barrel spending -- and that he has the experience to lead.

10:36 - Luntz says Fred Thompson won the debate tonight.  I didn't see it, but who knows?

10:35 - So what kind of ridiculous response will Frank Luntz's focus group show tonight?

10:28 - Fred Thompson's immigration line:
"We need to be a nation of high fences and wide gates -- and we get to decide when to open it and when to close it."
10:27 - Romney's best moment tonight, so far, has been his handling of the illegal immigration question.

10:17 - Mike Huckabee nails a tough question about Christian doctrine:
"Everybody says religion is off limits, except we always can ask me the religion questions."
He also adds:  If we're going to have a religious session, he'd feel more comfortable if we can pass the plates and help his fundraising.  Huckabee scores major points for not backing down from his position on the "wives submit themselves" question. 

Huckabee also rightly cleared up the "doctrinal quirk," which I like because it serves to educate the public.   I'm also betting this helps him a lot in South Carolina.  ... You might recall that he was the one who most adeptly handled the Evolution question in an early debate, as well.

10:16 - McCain on his leadership experience:  "I have led the largest squadron in the United States Navy."  He is on tonight.  I've never seen John McCain so eloquent and so on message.

10:14 - Once again,
Rudy Giuliani makes the point that change isn't necessarily good -- it could be good or bad.  I like Rudy in debates because he doesn't concede fundamental intellectual points to the other side.  He challenges flawed assumptions, and we need more of that in politics today.

10:11 - Have you noticed that Fred Thompson is attacking Mike Huckabee an awful lot?  Wanna know why?  It's the same reason that Brownback and Romney didn't get along ... they occupy the same niche ...  In the case of Thompson and Huck, it's the fact that they are the two Southerners ...

10:09 - "... Chris Wallace asks Huckabee a loaded question about change:  "Is that your idea of change, to be a big-government Republican President."  Responding to Wallace's assertion that Huckabee "raised" taxes, Huck responds: 
"Let me tell you what 'I raised.'  I raised hope ..."
10:07 - McCain is rightly getting a lot of mileage out of his support for the Surge.  In fact, he's selling it as "change":  "If we'd have done what the Democrats wanted to do six months ago, Al Qaeda would be trumpeting that they beat us.  I'll never let that happen."

10:01 - Rudy's campaign emails this excerpt from Hannity & Colmes.  It shows Rudy supported the Surge minutes after President Bush called for it:
Mayor Giuliani: “I think the President did the right thing tonight. And I think the important thing here -- the increase in troops, critical and important, but the most important thing is the change in strategy
While Rudy was right to support the President, McCain's point is that he was for the Surge before the President did.

9:58 - Huckabee directs this statement to Ron Paul: 
"We've got one true ally in the nation, and that is Israel." 
Ron Paul says Israel is treated like a "step child" by the U.S.  He does make the point that he defended Israel when they took out Iran's nuclear reactor in the 80s.

9:53 - Fred Thompson, who clearly hates the MSM, had a good line:  "... You can tell the news is so good coming out of Iraq, because you read so little about it in the New York Times."

9:52 - Ron Paul gets applause for: "... I say it's time to come home (from Iraq)!"  What does this applause mean?  I can only imagine that it means his passionate supporters made their way to Myrtle Beach...

9:51 - McCain on AlQaeda:  "I don't want to travel with them, they like one-way tickets."

9:47 - Rudy Giuliani says:  "John gets great credit for supporting the surge, but John, there were others who supported the Surge."  He's right, in the sense that Rudy supported the surge when Bush called for it -- but Bush called for it much, much later than McCain did.  In response, McCain gently answers: 
"My point was that I condemned the Rumsfeld strategy, and called for a change in strategy."
9:46 - McCain scores points by talking about the Surge.  (Today is the one-year anniversary, by the way.)  McCain makes the point that he's the only one on the stage who was critical of Rumsfeld's strategy, and gives props to Petreus. 

9:43 - After Ron Paul talks about the gun boats, Romney remarks: 
"I think Congressman Paul should not be reading so many of Ahmadinejad's press releases."
  For this line, he gets a smattering of applause, as well as some boos.

9:41 - Rudy's team just emailed this picture out.

9:40 - McCain handles the Iranian speed boat issue very well. 

9:37 - Fred gets some applause and laughs about "the virgins" those Iranians in the speed boats were about to see ...

9:36 - Huckabee is getting a lot of applause tonight.  He will likely be tough in SC.

9:32 - Rudy's tax cut ad is on now.  It's darn good.

9:30 - Ron Paul says he disagrees with the "Truthers," and when asked if they should give up their views, he says:  "It doesn't do me any good, so if they care about me, they should."

9:27 - Huckabee says if Ronald Reagan were running tonight, The Club for Growth would be running ads against him.

9:24 - Fred Thompson draws the first big applause of the night.  He goes after Huckabee, saying that
"He would be a Christian leader, but that he would also bring about liberal fiscal policies..."
  Um, yep.   ... Is this the first time Huckabee has been hit for being endorsed by the NEA?

9:21 - McCain handles the "Reagan Coalition" question wisely. 

9:19 - Mike Huckabee is off his game tonight.  He's so good a debater that even when he's bad, he's still pretty good.  But still ...

9:18 - Thompson and McCain are right that the Bush tax cuts need to be made permanent now.  This would avoid the instability of the unknown ...

9:16 - Fred Thompson is right that Rudy's tax plan is similar to his.  Rudy's is slightly better, though, and is also a bit shrewder, in that it allows folks to opt out and stick with the current tax plan if they want to ...

9:15 - Ron Paul is Mr. Negative tonight about the possibility of entering a recession.  If Reagan was about optimism, Ron Paul is about pessimism.

9:13 - John McCain is really hitting home tonight.  His point that tax cuts stimulate the economy -- AND that we have to cut spending at the same time, is spot-on.

9:12 - Rudy is struggling a bit as he tries to talk about his tax plan...

9:10 - Is it just me, or does Mike Huckabee look tired?

9:09 - John McCain looks and sounds better (so far) than he has in any debate.  He is on tonight.

9:06 - Mitt Romney is pandering to Michigan from South Carolina.  John McCain is right to say we are going through an information and technology revolution.  It may not be popular to admit but some jobs are leaving Michigan, and not coming back.  This is what always happens -- it's what happened in the Industrial Revolution.  The line of the night may have just come from John McCain: 
"One of the reasons I won in New Hampshire is that I went there and told the truth."
  You may not like John McCain, but give him credit for having the guts to say what he thinks.

9:03 - No Duncan Hunter?  Yes!  I also notice there is no Juan Williams for Brit Hume to kick around tonight, either ...

9:02 - I'm very patriotic, but even I think this version of the Star Spangled Banner is a bit much.

9:00 - For a guy who has been on the trail so long, Carl Cameron looks like he's holding up pretty good.  I was in New Hampshire for a few days and I needed a nap ...

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