GOP Debate Analysis: Florida Now a Two-Man Race ...

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Jan 24, 2008 11:13 PM
Tonight's debate was surprisingly unremarkable.  At this early hour, it appears to me the primary outcome of tonight's debate is that Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee have failed to do what they needed to do to catch up to the two front-runners in Florida. 

Other headlines include the fact that the candidates attacked Hillary Clinton more than each other, and that they all agreed President Bush's stimulus package probably doesn't go far enough.

Still, to me, the big story is that this race seems to finally be winnowing down a bit, and it now seems that we are really looking at a two-man race between John McCain and Mitt Romney.

If one had to assign a winner tonight, Mitt Romney would probably get the nod.  Unlike prior debates where Romney was ganged-up on, Romney didn't come under attack tonight -- in fact, nobody really came under attack tonight.  The topics also seem to have benefitted Romney more than the other candidates.  The debate focused more on the economy than it did on any other topic, and I think he is more adept at talking about this topic than is his primary opponent, John McCain.  He also did a good job of going after the Clintons -- something that McCain should have actually done more of. 

Romney was ahead in the last Florida poll I saw, and since nothing that happened tonight is likely to radically upset the apple cart, he wins tonight merely by maintaining the status quo.

Rudy Giuliani perhaps had the most to lose -- and did.  He absolutely had to score a knockout tonight;  he didn't come close.  I'm surprised that Rudy would allow this debate to start and finish without taking a gamble and forcing some drama.  His back is literally against the wall, but he acted as if he acted as if it was still September of '07.  I don't think he even mentioned that he turned around the 17th largest economy in the world.  In the early debates, Rudy was so commanding.  His debate recent debate performances serve as a microcosm of what has happened to his campaign over the last several months.

Mike Huckabee did fine, but he needed to have a great night; he did not.

And lastly, while John McCain mentioned the Surge several times tonight, he failed to make the electability argument -- that he is the one Republican that can beat the Democrats in the General -- tonight.  In my estimation, this is a tragic mistake, as he failed to make one of the most compelling arguments in favor of his candidacy.  John McCain did fine tonight, but failed to make this important closing argument.

I think the bottom line is that it now seems very safe to say Florida is a two-man race between Romney and McCain.