The Washington Post-Bloomberg News presidential debate at Dartmouth College is in the books. (That’s seven presidential debate for those of you counting.)
* Mitt Romney: We expected Romney to shine in this economic-focused debate and shine he did. Romney was knowledgeable and detailed — as expected — but also relaxed to the point where he let a little bit of his personality show. Romney’s biggest hurdle in this race is that he strikes lots of people as inauthentic and awkward. Not only was he head and shoulders above the other candidates on stage when it came to looking presidential, Romney also showcased his human side. His best debate in a string of very solid performances.
* 9-9-9/Herman Cain: The “9-9-9” plan is Herman Cain. Herman Cain is the “9-9-9 plan”. Nothing so dominated tonight’s debate as chatter about Cain’s “bold”(his words — repeatedly) plan to restructure the tax system in the country. There’s little question that the 9/9/9 plan will be the single most searched term in the wake of this debate — and that’s a very good thing for Cain. The former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza performed generally well during his first turn in the national spotlight, casting himself as the outsider in the race and the only one committed to making real change. Cain’s performance wasn’t perfect — he has one economic adviser who lives in Cleveland, Ohio — but he did nothing to slow the momentum he had coming into the night.
* Newt Gingrich: The former speaker of the House continues to perform well in these settings. Gingrich’s willingness to speak in extreme terms — everything the government does is either “stupid” or should be ended immediately — wins his applause from the crowd but is also a reflection of the fact that he is not constrained by any concerns of actually winning the nomination and having to defend his statement against President Obama.
* Candidates asking candidates questions: This format is very hit or miss. The misses usually revolve around candidates saying something like “I am sure all of you have seen my awesome plan on [fill in the blank issue]. Wouldn’t you agree it’s awesome?”But, most of the candidates tonight actually asked real questions of their opponents. That Romney got four questions directed at him tell you all you need to know about who the frontrunner in the race is.
* Rick Perry: The problem for Perry in the first three debates in which he participated was that he didn’t seem to have enough answers to the questions thrown his way. Tonight, Perry had a different problem: he didn’t get many questions and, for much of the debate, felt like an afterthought. When Perry did get opportunities, he tended to try to bend each question back to his preferred talking point — energy — and often made awkward transitions to do it. Perry’s decision not to roll out any portion of his economic plan during the economic-themed debate — he said he would do so over the next three days — seemed baffling. And he was totally unprepared to answer questions on energy companies and their dealing in his administration in Texas, Perry didn’t do enough to change the prevailing storyline which is that he is a fading commodity.
* Michele Bachmann: Like Perry, Bachmann needed a spark and just didn’t get it. She also seemed to be forcing things a bit — particularly when she said she had spent her life in the private sector. Cain’s solid performance is also bad news for Bachmann as the higher he rises, the more he eats away from her support in Iowa and nationally.
* Dodd-Frank: The financial regulatory reform bill that bears the name of the former Connecticut Senator and current House member from Massachusetts came in for a pillorying by each of the candidates. It was one of the few things they agreed on. That and how no one in the Republican race likes Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.
* Chilean Model: For all the 9-9-9 talk, Cain’s other rhetorical hobby horse — on Social Security — got tossed to the side. And we missed it.