A = Outstanding
B = Strong
C = Adequate
D = Feeble
F = Embarrassment
In alphabetical order...
Michele Bachmann B+
Herman Cain C+
Newt Gingrich C
Ron Paul C-
Tim Pawlenty B+
Mitt Romney B
Rick Santorum B-
John King F
In my estimation, it was a tie between Pawlenty and Bachmann.
Pawlenty was solid and persuasive. Thorough without being too wonkish. Clear and concise. The substance of most of his answers will likely be satisfactory to most GOP primary voters.
Michelle Bachmann gave powerful answers with rock-solid conservative appeal. She was unflinching, and she energized the audience like none of the others.
The other candidates...
Herman Cain struggled to capitalize on his strengths. He managed to dance around John King's pointed questions about Islam well enough. Cain did what he needed to do, but he didn't score any points in this debate.
Newt Gingrich did what Newt Gingrich does. He made a few very interesting, historically sophisticated statements, but he's too pedantic. He's perfect for the college classroom, but why would anyone pull the lever for Newt?
Setting aside the issues, Ron Paul is getting old. Paul would be 81 years old at the end of his first term as president. Maybe Paul simply had a bad day, but based on his performance tonight, I think most voters would conclude that Paul lacks the vigor for the big fight.
Rick Santorum did quite well actually. He certainly exceeded my expectations. But my expectations were pretty low. Santorum is a good debater, but his reputation is so radioactive, I'm not sure what he expects to gain from the run.
Mitt Romney did exactly what he needed to do. He stood there looking pretty and all front runner-y, effectively dodging important questions about his "Obamneycare" record. In New Hampshire, it's probably Mitt's to lose, so it's better safe than sparkly for Romney.
CNN's John King (the so-called moderator) was the clearly the night's loser. His grunting and groaning were a huge distraction. I suppose that was the point. He reminded me of Al Gore during the debates with George Bush -- except Al Gore had no obligation to be impartial or professional.
I would advise GOP candidates to stay away from CNN's John King, before and after the primaries. He's a hack.
Exit questions for those who watched the debates:
This or That: CNN or Fox News?
This or That: CNN or Comedy Central?
This or That: John King or Jon Stewart?
For those who didn't catch the debate, Left Coast Rebel has the video in its entirety.
ABC has astute analysis.