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South Carolina: GOP Debaters Blow Chance to Stop Romney South Carolina: GOP Debaters Blow Chance to Stop Romney

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South Carolina: GOP Debaters Blow Chance to Stop Romney

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Republican presidential candidates, from left to right: Texas Gov. Rick Perry; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich; and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, stand at their podiums at the South Carolina Republican presidential candidate debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)  (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, Pool)

The latest debate among the Republican presidential contenders Monday night unfolded like most of its predecessors, with the (dwindling) cast chasing Mitt Romney once again mostly flubbing the opportunity to make a coherent and disciplined case against him. Though the debate was lively, it was oddly unfocused -- especially given the stakes.

Fox News Channel moderator Bret Baier made a fuss at the debate's opening over the network's decision not to deploy a bell or buzzer to enforce the time limit on candidate answers; by the evening's end, it seemed Fox should have brought an alarm clock to wake up a field that appeared to be sleep-walking toward a potential Romney win in South Carolina that would put him on a clear course to the nomination.

Even if the candidates dozed, we stayed awake long enough to produce the top five takeaways from the debate, which begins with, by far, the most important development -- yet another dog that didn't bark. (The Republican debates this year have produced an entire kennel of them.)

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