Last night’s Republican debate in Las Vegas came down, it seemed at times, to a straight fight between Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. And Perry, who has been struggling in the polls of late, might just have done enough to convince voters that he’s still in the game.
Perry was notably more assertive, confident and combative as the debate kicked off. He accused Romney of being a hypocrite. While Romney remained cool, avoiding the kind of show of anger that could seriously damage his campaign, some of the attacks appeared to hit home. Romney can’t write Perry off just yet.
The big loser of the night might have been Herman Cain. Having leap-frogged Perry in the race to become Romney’s main challenger in recent weeks, Cain made few contributions to the debate. When he did speak, he seemed to get into a muddle about his 999 tax plan. He will need to perform better in future if he’s to maintain his current strong showing.
The other candidates might as well have not shown up. Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were given few opportunities to really get involved, but none of them made their own opportunities either. They seemed increasingly to be hanging around at the fringes of the debate, waiting for any scraps that might fall off the main table.
Republican voters seemed disappointed by the debate afterwards. Some worried that the battle between Romney and Perry was becoming too personal and that there was insufficient focus on policy detail. The only candidate who really tried to get stuck into policy during the debate was Herman Cain, but that didn’t go too well for him.