Overall one of the best debates in that there was less gotcha crap and candidates had more time to make better arguments, rather than be forced into uninformative sound bites.
Gingrich won, hands down. In addition, if you watch all the debates, you'll see he rises to the top overall. People are starting to warm up to him, saying his baggage may not matter as his performance is firing on all cylinders. When the economy is on fire and you have no job, you are going to go with the most confident, inspiring person with a plan and old baggage will be largely ignored. Candidates will not ever challenge him, and almost always agree with him. That says something. He studied Romney's plan and referred to page 47 dealing with cap gains rates for low/middle income people. He was prepared. Did any other candidate even read Romney's plan? He gets that the lame stream media is waging war on America. What other candidate is on this? Gingrich needs a break to make a big run. Perhaps the falling back of Cain? an endorsement? (however tough to get endorsements when you are in 3rd/4th place, endorsers want to go with the 'winning team'), perhaps a burst in grass roots fund raising. Gingrich is the elephant in the room that everyone wants to ignore. However, if a break happens, people will acknowledge publicly, what they think privately, Gingrich can surgically dismantle Obama and the lame stream media in one fell swoop.
Rick Perry stopped the bleeding. He has work to do. I can't believe he didn't reveal the main points of his economic plan, in an economic debate and said he'll talk about in the next few days? Team prep fail. He's got the money to stay in and has chances to put out a solid economic plan and recover from that. His governor experience will keep him in the game. I'm waiting for the slick Rick campaigner to show up. I think the Pre-candidate Rick hype did hurt him as people had very high expectations of him from the get go. We need the real Rick to live up to the hyped Rick. He'd be a solid CIC.
Mitt Romney did OK taking some fire and handling it pretty smoothly. Romney is going to get blowback when he came out supporting TARP etc.. He tried to come back and say he did not support bailouts of institutions. TARP bailed out specific institutions, duh. Romney supporting the big money center banks that got billions of taxpayer money is his chink in his armor, in addition to obvious health care. Other candidates need to exploit this. It is a VERY sore point with voters. It's total hogwash that the world would have ended if there was no bailouts.
Santorum, appeared much better, not so angry, had some good answers. But has a long way to go.
Same with Bachmann, came across much better this debate but her time in the sun has passed awhile ago.
Ron Paul, also came across better, but he's Ron Paul.
Herman Cain, took a lot of heat on 999. Cain could be sly and spin this to his advantage by saying he is offering concrete specific plans, and as CIC, he'll adjust his plans as he goes like he did in business. That would be his "out" of the scrutiny of the proposed sales tax. Cain is benefitting from any publicity is good publicity. The public is slowly starting to chant "9, 9, 9" even if they don't know what it means. Cain absolutely stepped in it though when he mention Alan Greenspan as his hero. WTF?!!! At the time, Greenspan was nearly worshipped, but now looking back he set the stage for big time bubbles and will NOT be remembered well. Maybe Cain gets a pass here because its early and Greenspan hasn't been villified in the general public, YET.
Huntsman did ok, but yes, comes across smarmy.
At this point it is a 4 man race: Gingrich, Perry, Romney, Cain. Remember at this point, last cycle Rudy was in the lead. It's time soon to narrow the field down to the Final Four to give them each more time to make their cases.