MSNBC is hosting the first Republican debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. Here, as in the Democratic debate, many are watching the top candidates to see if they falter or shine. Romney, McCain, and Giuliani appear to be those most likely to continue in this race until the end based on current polls and the substantial cash they have accumulated so far.
Based on the performances after about an hour of this debate it seems to me there have been no "home runs" or even any great quotable moments.
McCain has made his usual strong case for continued support for the Iraq War, adding that in his view the war before now had been "mismanaged". Giuliani cleverly weaved a complex but reasonable answer to the abortion issue. Most of the candidates state they are opposed to abortion and Roe v. Wade but Giuliani stated that the courts should decide the issue and women should have the right to choose to have an abortion despite he is personal "opposed" to abortion.
The fast and furious format is entertaining but I think it fails to capture much of the depth of the thinking of these guys, which appears remarkably similar on many issues despite the fact that they are trying to distance themselves from the competition.
Who won the debate? Off the top I'd suggest that Giuliani and McCain presented themselves much as they have for some time and their supporters, and voters somewhat new to the race, will view them favorably. Romney appeared somewhat off balance, answering more generally, as if he's spent far less time contemplating these issues. However Romney's looks and presence may play well with voters - he's arguably the most "presidential looking" of the crowd and in our very superficial society this edge can go a long way.
Conclusion? McCain by a slight edge over Giuliani, with Ron Paul as the most focused and articulate of the bunch.