Romney Rallies In GOP Debate, Now Favored In Iowa
In one succinct sentence in last night’s GOP debate on Fox News, Mitt Romney reclaimed his status as the clear front-runner and presumptive nominee. In response to a question about where will new jobs come from Mitt talked about the rebound of manufacturing and high-tech, and then stated:
“Our president thinks America is in decline. It is if he’s President, it’s not if I’m President. This is going to be an American century.”
This came 45 minutes into the debate when Romney had already been focused and clearly on his game, after stumbling badly in the prior debate. For the last hour or so, he maintained his Presidential demeanor and in the end was the clear winner of the debate and now, in all likelihood, the Iowa caucuses.
Newt Gingrich had his first truly unimpressive debate performance, possibly thrown off by aggressive attacks from Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, and in the end he seemed more befuddled than in any previous debate. For Newt, this was absolutely the wrong performance at the wrong time.
Rick Perry had another good debate in several areas, and I think he may have helped his cause in the upcoming caucuses, but in the end it’s too little too late. Bachmann was aggressive, albeit a bit off again on her facts, most of the evening and was clearly determined to gain ground with weak Gingrich supporters. Ron Paul had his standard moments of clarity in those issue areas where he always does well but spent more time “off the rails” last night than most previous debates. However his support and organization in Iowa make him a contender for the top three come January 3, 2012.
Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum also had a few good moments but overall they were ineffective and will not be factors in Iowa, nor longer term. I expect they will be the first two to drop out of the race, regardless of Huntsman’s performance in NH where he’s heavily invested.
Over the last couple days I took the Romney campaign to task on several fronts including better debate prep and last night Mitt returned to his previous form at a time when it was most crucial. That elevates the success of his performance exponentially. He scored well on immigration, the judicial branch and energy questions, and offered an excellent explanation about the circumstances as Governor that have been at the core of his so called flip-flopping.
Most impressive though was his reclamation of the presence of a man who knows he is the candidate to beat, and presumptive nominee, and he saved his sharpest attacks for President Obama. On Iran and the drone issue, Romney said, “A foreign policy based on ‘pretty please?’ You got to be kidding.” Romney also took it to Obama on the Keystone XL pipeline and his overall failure as a leader. It was clear Romney resonated with the audience, as each was greeted with enthusiastic applause.
Gingrich was already slipping in the polls (see my post from yesterday) and the bulk of the massive $3.1 million ad buy benefiting Romney will further erode Newt’s numbers over the next two plus weeks. Ron Paul still has strong support and a solid Iowa organization and Rick Perry may have scored well enough to climb into the top three. My prediction for the Iowa caucuses is Romney first, then a three-way battle with Gingrich, Paul and Perry, and it’s quite possible Newt finishes fourth behind Paul and Perry.
Is the race over? Not even close, and there is a lot of politicking to do yet. However, Mitt Romney and his campaign have clearly recovered from a couple of very bad weeks. The recent stumbles by Team Romney may be just what was necessary for them to regroup, reestablish the offensive and put Mitt back on top. I don’t look for them to make the same kind of mistakes again.