Front-runners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney--who on the campaign trail and in the media have been bashing one another regularly during the past week--barely grazed each other during Thursday night’s debate. But that doesn't mean there were no other one-on-one showdowns. The most notable:
Bachmann versus Gingrich: Rep. Michele Bachmann attacked the former House speaker early on, blasting him as an “influence peddler” for advising mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Late in the second hour of the debate, she engaged him once again, this time alleging that Gingrich once supported “barbaric” partial-birth abortion–-which he vehemently denied.
If there is a beneficiary of the exchanges, it's Bachmann herself and Romney. Bachmann came across as direct and prepared, and she's competing for many of the same voters as Gingrich in Iowa. Romney isn't, but anything that dings Gingrich is a plus for the former Bay State governor.
Romney versus Obama: It was a different Romney on Thursday night. After trying to engage in hand-to-hand combat with Gingrich on Saturday, with mixed success, the ex-governor returned to almost exclusively attacking the sitting president instead. That’s proven a winning strategy with conservatives so far, and, after struggling to land punches with Gingrich last debate, it might be a wise move.
Santorum versus Romney: After surviving most of the debate without having to withstand a direct attack from any of the candidates, Romney found himself in a back and forth over abortion against Rick Santorum. It's not that Romney was not prepared with an adequate response; he was. But getting into a debate over social issues against the social conservative in the race, in Iowa, is not where you want to find yourself if you’re Romney.
Perry versus nobody: Texas Gov. Rick Perry arguably had his best debate: He referenced NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, which was well received, and appeared much more at ease than in the past. But his newfound success was all largely because of his poor standing in the polls. Gone are the days of Perry the front-runner, and thus gone are the days of Romney and others bashing him. That's why he was able to succeed.