First question to all four: Are we as a nation better off than we were eight years?
Romney goes first. He dodges it to talk about his record in Massachusetts which leads Anderson Cooper to say, "Are you running for governor or are you running for president?" It helps get Romney back on track to talk about the problems with Washington.
McCain says overall we're better off, but let's have some straight talk. Drinking game. A shot for every time Romney says "Washington is broken" and McCain says "Straight talk." McCain gets a little lost in the weeds talking about the subprime crisis.
Huckabee answers a little more coherently, saying we're not better off, and he says Congress may be more to blame than Bush, then rattles off some populist rhetoric about the little guy.
Paul says we're worse off, primarily due to our monetary system.
Second question: Romney, is McCain conservative?
Romney tries to list all the ways he and McCain differ with a friendly smile, mentions all the bad bills McCain co-sponsered with Democrats, and ends with a zinger about how if the New York Times endorses you, you're not a conservative.
McCain smiles back with a toothy grin that barely conceals his contempt for Mitt and launches into his conservative credentials before throwing out a bunch of numbers from Massachusetts to make Mitt look bad.
Romney says "Let me help you with the facts" and responds to McCain's response. This can't remain pleasant for long.
Huckabee points out this isn't a two-man race, which means it is a two-man race. Buuut by not being a front-runner, no one's attacking his record, so he gets to sing its praises.
McCain shows more knowledge on domestic issues when it comes to energy and sounds reasonable in addressing climate change. Then Romney points out how expensive the McCain-Lieberman environment bill will be.
Huckabee had a great answer on state's rights: "If Gov. Schwarzenegger is right, the other 49 governors will want to copy him. If he's wrong, then they can get in line to recruit those jobs he's lost."
Anderson cuts off Paul's answer, which is what happens when you haven't won a state yet.
Huckabee talks about his Eastern highway idea, which just doesn't ring real, then made a joke about building a Western highway. Romney chimes in about realistic infrastructure solutions
Romney - sounding the smartest
McCain - playing it safe
Huckabee - getting off good one-liners
Paul - largely ignored
Romney was able to lay out a strong illegal immigration platform, remembering to credit and applaud legal immigration.
McCain said he wouldn't vote for his own 2006 McCain-Kennedy bill were it to be up for a vote today. He said he will fight to secure the borders first.
Anderson asked all the candidates about Sandra Day O'Connor, whom Reagan appointed. Was she a good judge? Huckabee said "History will judge that" and then went on to make a passionate plea for a Human Life Amendment (make all abortion illegal). Paul said he would've appointed someone else at that time. McCain said he'd vote for Roberts-Alito type judges. Romney would favor Roberts-Alito-Thomas-Scalia type judges.
Anderson next quotes Peggy Noonan on how George W. Bush destroyed the Republican Party. Romney defended Bush and got some applause, blaming "Washington" more than Bush for the Republican Party's poor shape right now.
Romney gets another question, this time addressing the "timetable" smear from McCain. Romney: "Absolutely, unequivocably no." Romney hammers the point home by saying even raising the issue right before the Florida primary was a dirty trick Reagan would have found reprehensible, resulting in applause. McCain sticks with his "timetable" assertion, which is disheartening. Anderson even corrected McCain on his interpretation of the quote, and McCain said "timetable, timetable, timetable."
Looking at my previous post... John did not resist getting in pot-shots at Mitt, did not act above the fray, was magnanimous to Huck and the guys who dropped out. I don't think Hillary ever came up. His economic plans/ideas were platitudes. I dont think he did too well tonight. His timetable smear felt dishonest and petty.
Mitt ignored Mike. He couldn't stay positive because question #2 was about McCain's positions. He did have the best answers of the night, but his inspiration was as much anti-McCain as it was pro-Romney.
Mike did well, but then, the last Democratic debate when John Edwards did best, it didn't mean much in voting.
Ron got his standard "we never should have gone into Iraq" point out. Ron really has some good ideas, but they're so good, they will never get a majority support in Washington.
I think Ron Paul will get 5-10% in most of the 22 states.
I think Mike Huckabee might have gained a couple percentage points in a couple southern states.
I think Romney made the race a little closer in a few states.
I think with the endorsements by Giuliani and Schwarzenegger, it didn't matter than John McCain did not have a good night. Romney should win four or five states; Huckabee will win three or four states, and McCain will win over ten states, and while he won't have the nomination sewn up, he'll be close enough that Romney and/or Huckabee will drop out.