Blogging the December 10th Iowa Debate

The Republican field of candidates has had its most significant shift in the time since the last debate. With Newt Gingrich now positioned as the clear frontrunner and Herman Cain having dropped-out, it will be interesting to watch how the dynamic changes between the candidates. The stakes are certainly high—this is a primetime ABC debate hosted by George Stephanopoulos and Diane Sawyer in Iowa, where voters will make their choice on a candidate in less than a month. The stage is looking smaller than ever, given that former Utah governor Jon Huntsman has decided to skip this debate.

The first topic is on jobs and the economy. Gingrich is up first, and he lists some specifics about things he would do.  Romney lists seven areas which he would improve, but does not go into the level of detail which Gingrich does. This is a repeating trend. One of the real appeals for Newt is that he’s not afraid to get into some specifics.  Romney will get close, but he always leaves a little room for the imagination. Glossing over the issues is unreassuring to voters, and even if you don’t agree with a candidate, their confidence can still resonate. I think this is the strength driving Newt up in the polls right now. The thinking is that who knows if what he’s saying will work or not, but at least he’s saying something and he has ideas.

Romney starts off by heavily targeting Obama and criticizes him for being too hands-off on the economy. He continues focusing on the President more than the other candidates, which he has done for most of the campaign to make himself look above the other candidates and toward the general election. But as a sign of the polls, this changes quickly and the candidates soon resort to almost exclusively attacking each other for a good portion of the debate.

Romney starts hitting Newt in a question about the differences between the two candidates, and he laughs when Newt is quoted as claiming to be more conservative and more electable than Romney. One of the best lines of the night came from Newt when he said that the only reason Romney isn’t a career politician is because he lost to Ted Kennedy in 1994, back when Romney was running for the Senate. Likewise, I was impressed by Romney’s ability to turn this around on Newt. He responded with humor (another what-if scenario had he joined the NFL) and said his private sector experience ended up being more valuable and is what the country needs. The politician vs. businessman factor gets played an awful lot, but it doesn’t look like the majority of voters really care either way. Both Romney and Gingrich have been up in the polls, so to me, voters are judging the candidates they see and not so much what path they took to get there. Romney uses the same line about working in the private sector and creating jobs so often that it almost doesn’t have any meaning any more.

Michelle Bachmann does something interesting—she attempts to lump Newt and Romney together as one candidate on the wrong side of the issues. She criticizes Newt for supporting the national individual health care mandate and Romney for being the only governor to implement “socialized medicine.” Bachmann uses the name “Newt Romney” several times to criticize both men at once. Newt essentially calls out Bachmann and says her statements are untrue. Bachmann’s strategy of lumping together Romney and Newt just doesn’t have any sticking power. The two candidates invoke very different emotions and have had different careers, so even if they have agreed in the past, “Newt Romney” isn’t a winning line.

When Rick Perry makes the claim that Romney originally supported the individual health insurance mandate for the country and removed that line from his book, Romney offered Perry a $10,000 bet that he was wrong. The wording in the book may be different than what Perry was claiming, but this offer took me by surprise (Perry declined, by the way). It looked like Romney was being serious. Later in the debate, the candidates are asked about hard financial times, and Romney even says that he’s never had to cut back on necessities. There was really no way out of that one for Romney, but if anyone needs footage for an “out of touch” advertisement, this debate has some great clips.

These were the big takeaways for me. This debate has certainly been the most exciting so far, with the candidates ramping up their attacks as January approaches. There’s still one more debate this Thursday. Let’s see what happens!

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  • riccija  On December 11, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Regarding the Perry Romney debate over the book, here is explanation from : The line is, “We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country.” But the phrase “the same thing” refers to the goals of the state law: “portable, affordable health insurance,” not the controversial individual mandate or the entire law. Romney saw the Massachusetts plan as a potential model for other states, if they so choose, but not as a federal mandate.

    Overall I thought the debate was pretty good. I felt that Bachmann did a really good job as well as Paul and Perry. I felt that Newt Romney got teamed up on, but kept their composure well. The biggest loser from the debate – Diane Sawyer, what a horrible moderator.

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