Last night, I had the privilege to be there. It is amazing what you pick up vs. watching on TV. Much is being said on who did best, who did bad. I’m not going to add anything to that. Instead I want to focus on the items the TV audience may not have picked up. The order is as they were on the stage.
Rick Santorum: He came across as the one with nothing to lose and little expectation. He wanted to make his points and then just watched the debate like a spectator. Didn’t take notes when others were talking and didn’t appear to be organizing his next response. During the breaks, he seemed to have the most jovial, personal conversations whether it be the other candidates or people in the crowd. He pretty much matched my expectations.
Rick Perry: He came across as the least intelligent by far. Even his best line (Tebow) seemed rehearsed, forced and stiff. The only exception was when he talked about the border and energy where he seemed to have a command of the matter.
Mitt Romney: He (or Bachman) exceeded my expectations the most. My view of him was one who is rather stiff and in previous debates was too much playing not to lose. Even the hardest question regarding abortion, his response came across as very sincere. His best line was the “pretty please” and the crowd really recognized it. There were more positive chuckles than applause. If an Obama supporter had been there, this would have made them the most uncomfortable. Perry’s follow-up had the same effect. Overall, his command of the economy and job creation was palpable. Nobody but Huntsman seemed close in this regard.
Newt Gingrich: He met my high expectations. He does well in these formats, he came across very personable, intelligent with great humor. The GSE/Fannie/Freddie didn’t even seem to phase him much except he did play with his hands more than normal while Bachmann was going after him.
Romney and Gingrich: I got the strong impression those two really like each other. Their smiles to each other were sincere and their conversation during breaks was intimate and warm. I would not be surprised if they were running mates and could be very effective as a team. This was probably my biggest surprise. I imagined they didn’t like each other (ala Romney and McCain).
Ron Paul: Easily the most disappointing. On monetary, spending and not being the world’s policeman, we have alot of issue agreement. But, I realized he does not seem to be a guy who really wants to govern or even be elected. I think he sees himself as the nation’s rubberband. He doesn’t like the direction things are going so he figures if he puts more tension on the rubberband, he can keep things from sliding further. His refusal to see the difference between Iran vs. Iraq, Libya, Egypt etc. really came across as disengenuous. Unlike Santorum’s demeanor during others’ comments, he seemed disinterested in everything going around him. If he wasn’t the subject, he just seemed impatiently waiting for them to get back to him.
Michelle Bachmann: Wow. Until her “take me serious comment,” she was really doing well. She came across much warmer and smarter than my prior impression of her. She was engaged in every question, even those asked of others. She listened close and was ready to respond if given a chance. Her passion came through very positively. Prior to last night, I had an impression much of her comments were rehearsed bromides. Not last night.
Two negatives though and they are big ones in my mind.
1) She immediately left the stage for every break while the others mingled. The first time, I thought she might need a potty break. But when she kept doing it, I got the impression she either didn’t want to lose her mojo by being personal with the other candidates or was talking to someone briefing her.
2) Her “take me serious” comment reminded my of my daughters when they were teens and thought I was treating them like a kid. Also, after she had been quite effectively dishing it out all night, it made it seem like she couldn’t take it. Prior to that comment, I had heard from another spectator she had earned a Cabinet spot. When that came out, the guy gasped.
Jon Huntsman: He was a total mixed bag. On one hand, his very measured style grew on you as the debate went on. Had a command of the issues, didn’t seem rehearsed, and every response was thoughtful. But after awhile he started to lose me, I started asking myself “does he really believe in anything? Where is his passion?” Treasury Secretary came to mind. He could handle the Euro crisis, China, and five other things and not break a sweat.
Some shallow comments:
Santorum: I think he has broken his nose a couple of times. Never noticed that before. One of the most hilarious was as we came out of break, he did an Arsenio Hall impression to get the crowd to cheer.
Perry: Bigger man than I thought. Built like a skill position football player. Might have a neck or back problem because he stood and turned rather stiffly even when the cameras were off. But the worst was he had the strut of a ladies man, “look at me.”
Romney: When Gingrich’s humor was coming out, he first really enjoyed it like he was in his living room with a buddy and then he caught himself and seemed to be saying “I shouldn’t enjoy it this much” and painted his smile (reminded me when Obama decides he has to act “Presidential”).
Gingrich: While not as chubby as I imagined, he had a generally slovenly appearance. Suit didn’t seem to fit or something and his posture was overly relaxed.
Paul: Little old man who needed to have make-up. Looked sickly compared to everyone else.
Bachmann: Frankly, too hot. Not in a Palin natural way but in a “look at me” sorta way. Similar to Perry.
Huntsman: His lack of passion came across as aloof- “been there, done this. I have somewhere else I’d rather be.” Seemed confused when his passionless statements (as intelligent as they were) didn’t get a crowd response, not even out of his reserved section.
Crowd: While mostly middle class people my age or older, a nice mix of under 30 and mostly couples, there was so few people between 30 and 50, it almost seemed to be they were purposely excluded. The most interesting spectator was obviously a political junkie. He was probably 25-30, holding court in the back before it started. He knew every trivia item about every candidate and panelist.
Panel: Megyn Kelly was taller than Baier, Cavuto, and Wallace. These are three short guys. And, yes, she looks great in person. Her and Bret laughed and turned around when the crowd responded. They came across as if they could live in Sioux City and love it.
Sioux Citians: When I told them I was from South Dakota, they were very warm. When I said Sioux Falls, they got cold. I think they have a bit of an inferiority complex.
Final comment: Mitt and Newt definitely came out in my mind as complete packages. The others had at least a single glaring weakness. Would not be surprised if by Super Tuesday the race is down to these two and goes all the way to convention or close to it. Everyone else should stick with their current job.