Mitt Romney gestures during the debate Monday in Tampa. (AP /Mike Carlson)

Through four debates now, the former Massachusetts governor has shown himself to be a capable debater who doesn’t get tripped up, withstands whatever attacks are directed at him, and always has something to say. Almost like a the proverbial tortoise, he has been slow, steady and most importantly, no one has been able to penetrate the shell he has erected.

And given the uneven track record of his more hare-like opponents — particularly the struggles last week of Michele Bachmann and a very rough performance from Rick Perry on Monday night — Romney has come out as the winner almost every time.

Romney owned the earliest exchange of the debate Monday night by badgering the Texas governor on his contention that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme,” and while Perry didn’t completely fumble the exchange, it set the tone for a debate in which Perry was on his heels throughout.

Romney was solid in attacking Perry’s record on jobs in Texas, arguing that the governor “was dealt four aces” — a good use of a poker analogy. This is when Perry started slipping up.

By the time all was said and done, Perry had stumbled badly over the HPV vaccine he mandated for young girls through an executive order and then over his decision to grant in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants — a response that earned him some boos from the crowd at the Tea Party Express-sponsored debate.

Perry came out of the debate with several scratches the likes of which Romney — even with such a ready-made attack on his health care bill — has yet to suffer.

And this is really the Romney campaign's modus operandi.

Earlier in the campaign, it was the so-called “Mittness Protection Program,” an effort to keep the candidate relatively insulated and avoid any mistakes while he built the kind of frontrunner campaign that he has today.

Say what you want about Romney having been preparing for this campaign for the last three years; it shows, and it has paid dividends. He routinely makes himself look like the most prepared candidate on the stage, and standing right next to Perry (within arms length) on Monday night made that comparison even clearer.

Now, it’s important to note that Romney is still not winning. And sometimes people are looking for something a little bit more exciting — hence the early flood of support for Perry.

But even with the flashier candidates running out to early leads in Iowa (Bachmann) and nationally (Perry), sometimes it’s slow-and-steady that gets it done.

And at least for now, Romney has shown himself to be very good at slow and steady.

It’s special election day: Today is the big day in New York’s 9th district and Nevada’s 2nd, where vacancies created by Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D) resignation and Sen. Dean Heller’s (R) appointment to the upper chamber have left two seats open.

Republicans are expected to easily hold the Nevada seat; the real question is whether they can win a heavily Democratic New York City-based district.

Recent polling shows GOP nominee Bob Turner taking a lead, and Democrats would have a lot of explaining to do if they lose the district, where there are three Democrats for every Republican.

An undersold storyline: this could actually make things relatively easy for the state’s redistricting process. With the state losing two seats to reapportionment, each party is likely to lose one. And the map-draws could pretty easily cut the conservative upstate district Democrats won in a special election four months ago and the heavily Democratic district with a Republican incumbent if Turner wins.

For more on what these races mean, check out our take from Monday.

Palin adviser says it’s too late: We’re still waiting for Sarah Palin to make a final decision about running for president, but at least one adviser says it’s much ado about nothing.

Occasional Palin adviser Fred Malek told ABC News on Monday that he thinks its too late for the former Alaska governor to get in the race.

“She could pick up a lot of support going in, but I think it is too late,” Malek said. “I think the field is set, and I think it’s a great field. I think our nominee and the next president will be a governor. And I’m thankful for that.”

Redistricting map due from Washington commission today: We should have an idea about which direction redistricting is heading in Washington state today, as the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission is set to release its first proposals.

The commission has been accepting input from the public for three months. Its commissioners will now release their plans and take public comment for another month. They aim to complete the maps by early November.

The state is adding a 10th congressional district thanks to population growth over the past decade. For a recap of the big questions for the commission, see here.


Arizona will keep its primary set for Feb. 28. That date is still in violation of Republican National Committee rules because it comes before the first Tuesday in March, but Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has decided against moving it up to Jan. 31, which would have leapfrogged the four early states and caused chaos on the primary calendar.

A draft GOP redistricting map in Ohio would put GOP Reps. Steve Austria and Mike Turner in the same district and Democratic Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur in the same district. It would also create a safe Democratic district in the Columbus area to shore up Reps. Steve Stivers (R) and Pat Tiberi (R), while matching up Reps. Jim Renacci (R) and Betty Sutton (D).

The Democratic National Committee is up with a new ad in support of President Obama’s jobs plan.

Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) says he was speaking figuratively when he said tea party members of Congress want African-Americans to be hanging in a tree.

Romney endorses Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) for reelection, further irritating the tea party group FreedomWorks, no doubt.

Vice President Biden goes after Perry, too.

Former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox endorses former congressman Pete Hoekstra in the Michigan GOP Senate primary. Hoekstra has now got the backing of two of his opponents from the 2010 GOP governor’s race, including now-Gov. Rick Snyder (R).


Krystal Ball: From scandal star to professional pundit” — Ben Pershing, Washington Post

Doubts about Perry echo those faced by Reagan” — Gerald F. Seib, Wall Street Journal


GOP debate winners and losers

Fact checking the Republican debate

Perry goes on the defesnive in GOP debate