The fifth Republican presidential debate — this one from Orlando, Florida — is over.

ORLANDO, FL - SEPTEMBER 22: Texas Gov. Rick Perry (L), and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) participate in the Fox News/Google GOP Debate at the Orange County Convention Center on September 22, 2011 in Orlando, Florida. The debate features the nine Republican candidates two days before the Florida straw poll. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Have picks of your own? The comments section is all yours.


* Mitt Romney: Yes, we are a broken record. In each of the five debates, we’ve named Romney a winner. But, it’s hard to argue with the performance he gave tonight — particularly in the second hour of the debate where he was steady, presidential and, gasp, funny. Romney stumbled a bit on education — he didn’t have an answer for an attack from Texas Gov. Rick Perry on his support for “Race to the Top” — but, in the main, proved entirely unflappable. Romney avoided — again — answering any sort of tough question (or follow-up) on health care, which amounts to a victory for him. Romney is, without question, the best debater in this GOP field and this may well have been his best showing to date.

* Newt Gingrich: The entire Gingrich campaign is predicated on the former House Speaker’s skill in debates — he lacks money, early state organization etc. — so it’s a must for him to do well in these settings. And, to his credit, he did just that tonight. Gingrich is the master of the zinger delivered with a deadpan and, right from the start, he had the crowd on his side. Does it change anything? Nope. Gingrich lacks the campaign operation to take advantage of a second straight strong debate. It might just help him sell some more books though....

* Rick Santorum: We’ve thought for a while now that the former Pennsylvania Senator is doing better in these debates than he gets credit for. Tonight he owned the first hour of the gathering and his hammering of Perry on immigration was a terrific moment. For a second tier candidate like Santorum, the key to these debates is to be in the mix with the big boys (and girls). He was right there all night.

* Gary Johnson: For a candidate who is clocking in somewhere between asterisk and one percent in polling, the former New Mexico governor had a moment with his “my neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready projects than this president” line. It will be the most replayed line of the night — without question. Johnson still has no chance to be the Republican nominee but deserves credit for a heck of a zinger.

* Word clouds: Anyone who reads The Fix knows that we have a major soft spot for these things. But, viewed broadly, Fox News and Google did a good job of trying to make the debate feel technologically hip while also adding value.

* 9/9/9: The economic plan put forward by businessman Herman Cain got alot of attention — and applause — tonight. Look for it to trend on Google and Twitter overnight and into the a.m. hours. And that’s good news for the Hermanator.


* Rick Perry: The Texas governor started off just fine. While his answers on Social Security and immigration were far from perfect, they were steady enough. (Remember that Perry, as the frontrunner, simply has to avoid making big mistakes, not score huge victories.) Unfortunately for Perry, the debate was two hours long not one. In the second half, he appeared distracted and off his game — big time. His answer on Pakistan was odd — India? — and he totally flubbed a pre-planned attack on the idea that Romney has taken a number of seemingly contradictory positions on a variety of issues. The lingering impression Perry left with his now-trademark second half fade was a guy who might not be ready for primetime. Not good.

* Michele Bachmann: After a bounce-back performance 10 days ago in the Tampa debate, the Minnesota Congresswoman struggled for air time again tonight. And, when she did get called on it was as often as not to answer a tough question — like what she meant by suggesting that the HPV vaccination led to “mental retardation”. Bachmann continues to search for a second act in the race but without much luck.

* The “Gchat” noise: We applaud Fox/Google for trying to think outside of the box when it comes to letting the candidates know when they have gone over their allotted time. But, the noise they chose — the notification you get when you have a waiting instant message in Gchat — was not the right one. Our nomination? Gob Bluth (of “Arrested Development” saying “Come on!”. Trust us. It would rock).


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