Who Won the GOP Debate?
New Hampshire political observers offer their take on the CBS contest.
Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich were the biggest winners, and CBS the biggest loser in Saturday night’s GOP debate, according to one New Hampshire political activist.
Jennifer Horn of Nashua, a former Republican congressional candidate and founder of the We The People liberty group, said she thought Saturday may have been Perry’s strongest debate performance to date.
“Perry was strong and focused, handled his previous poor performances with humor, and probably actually did repair at least some of the damage,” Horn said. “This might have been his debate performance overall so far.”
Former State Rep. Jim Splaine, D-Portsmouth, one of the few who predicted that Perry would be able to rebound after last week's debate gaffe, said he was also impressed with the Texas governor's performance on Saturday night.
"Rick Perry didn't miss a mark, and effectively made fun of his brain freeze of the previous debate," Splaine said. "He's in this race as long as his money holds out."
Horn felt that Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney also performed well.
“As Newt fights to move into a strong second place, this debate helped,” she said. “It showcased his strengths; if he builds on it with more time in the state, he could be poised to surprise people on Election Day.”
Splaine said he thought Herman Cain appeared out of his element discussing foreign policy, the topic of the debate, while Jon Huntsman and Gingrich "seemed to come across as very competent."
Overall, he said Romney, Gingrich and Perry had the strongest debate performances.
The biggest loser, according to Horn, was CBS. She called it “unbelievable” that CBS went to a repeat of “NCIS” instead of showing the final 30 minutes of the debate.
“Apparently, dissecting fake crimes is more important to them than evaluating real candidates for the position of leader of the free world,” she said.
Horn added that the moderator, Scott Pelley, was “awful – rude, condescending and more than once, misinformed… If I were a candidate, I would not accept another debate invitation from CBS.”
Matt Masur, a history professor at Saint Anselm College, said it was good to hear the candidates finally spend some time talking about foreign policy, which wasn’t the case in previous debates. He said he wished the candidates had been more specific about their positions on foreign interventions, as none of the candidates truly articulated what actions they would take regarding the “Arab Spring” movements.
He said many of the candidates, including Perry and Gingrich, were very critical of foreign aid.
“But I think they may overlook the importance and success of a diverse security strategy in which foreign aid is an important component,” Masur said. “It can build goodwill, contribute to economic development, and address humanitarian crises.”
He said the audience reactions on Saturday night show a real challenge facing the candidates for the GOP nomination. He said many people cheered the hawkish talk from Romney and Perry. But there was also vocal support for Huntsman's call to end the war in Afghanistan.
“While a portion of the GOP electorate may want an aggressive, hawkish foreign policy, another contingent is more inward-looking and seems frustrated with ongoing and open-ended military engagements,” Masur said.
Splaine, the former Portsmouth lawmaker, said he found it interesting that there was such strong and clear division among the candidates on whether to go to war with Iran if they are about to build a nuclear bomb, not to mention the difference of opinion among the candidates about withdrawing immediately from Afghanistan and the use of torture and water boarding.
Meanwhile, Holly Shulman, a spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said she found it “astonishing” that Romney and the other major Republican candidates advocated zeroing out the foreign aid budget, including support to Israel.
“Putting a political calculation above Israel's security doesn't inspire confidence, to say the least,” she said.