I just spent 90 minutes watching the Republican primary debate. Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul each answered about a dozen questions on topics ranging from the war in Afghanistan to Obamacare to the economy. Tonight's big winner?
Gary Johnson and every candidate who didn't attend.
Why did Herman Cain win? Because the "front-runners" weren't there. He got his message out. He made a good impression (Fox's focus group had several people say he made the most sense and that his business background really showed through). While others stayed away, Cain showed people he was a serious candidate. He proved he could hold his own with the established, polished politicos.
Gary Johnson, on the other hand, appeared confused and whiny. Granted, he had a point that, early in the debate, he hadn't been asked many questions, but the way he approached it was unprofessional and un-polished. His history and centrist positions on some issues are going to make it difficult for him to gain support among the base, and he didn't have a single notable moment in the whole debate, other than his tantrum.
Ron Paul actually showed himself to be on-point in several areas, but he also contradicted himself, particularly in his opposition to Arizona's controversial immigration law whilst simultaneously supporting state-level control over marriage and drugs. Even though I think he did well, he's a fringe candidate who, like in 2008, won't gain the support of the broad-base of conservatives.
Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum performed as expected. They are, after all, established politicians with experience in debates and campaigning. They didn't lose, but they didn't do anything to establish themselves as big name candidates. Which because of Cain's performance, is a bit of a loss for them.
Romney, Gingrich and every other potential candidate who didn't appear lost a lot of ground tonight. Until now, Herman Cain has been a relative unknown. Yes, he had a radio show and has appeared at several Tea Party events, but most people don't know him by name. Tomorrow, his name will be all over Fox News and the blogs, and that will be a huge help to his chances.
Will he be the nominee? It's still unlikely. He has little political experience and has never served in public office (though, as he stated, Washington is full of politicians and "how's that working out for you?"). He is, at best, a long-shot, but showing up to tonight's debate was a coup for his campaign. Tonight is probably not the beginning of a dark horse, insurgent campaign leading to Cain's nomination.
But it might be. Wouldn't that be interesting?
Cross-posted at The Minority Report Blog.