"It was the third component of his mission where he may have run into some trouble and where Romney's campaign hopes to create an opening."
Glen Johnson had far stronger words for Perry at the Boston Globe's Political Intelligence blog. After leading off by saying Romney's seven years of campaign experience and the $47 million he personally has spent on those races are paying off, Johnson said Romney was the most composed and most focused.
"Romney, mounting his second White House bid, benefited in many ways from having been on such a grand stage before. Perry has two more debates this month to improve his answers, sharpen his attacks, and prove he is worthy of remaining considered the frontrunner, but another tentative performance in the next debate, on Monday night, could bring his campaign crashing back to Earth as fast as it launched into orbit."
The biggest divide between Romney and Perry became apparent: Social Security. Huffington Post writer Jon Ward said the two are now locked in a "cage match" over the issue.
"There was one thing and one thing only on the minds and lips of Mitt Romney's aides and advisers after Wednesday night's Republican presidential primary debate: Texas Gov. Rick Perry's position on Social Security.
"Perry doubled down during the debate on his past statements of Social Security as a "ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie." But Romney — the former Massachusetts governor — and his campaign looked past the rhetoric, calling that a distraction from the substance of Perry's position on the issue, which they said amounts to being in favor of ending the program.
"A top Perry aide refused, under repeated questions from The Huffington Post, to rule out the idea that Perry would favor dissolving altogether the 76-year-old program that pays out benefits to seniors."
Romney carved a very different line in the sand: "Our nominee has to be someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security, but who is committed to saving Social Security."
Chalian and Burij at PBS NewsHour called that "the most illustrative exchange that will likely help define the Perry/Romney divide going forward... ."
Ron Paul had an exchange with Perry regarding the Perry's early days as a Democrat and support of Hiliary Clinton's healthcare plan, to which Perry replied by inquiring about Paul's lack of support for Ronald Reagan.
Newt Gingrich may have been the most impressive among the rest of the candidates, as his points were articulate and intelligent — drawing considerable applause for, at one point, accusing the moderator of trying to provoke GOP infighting.
"You'd like to puff this up into some giant thing!" Gingrich said testily after Politico's John Harris asked a question regarding the difference between individual mandates in Obamacare and Romneycare.
Despite strong showings from many of the candidates on stage, it was clear that, in the words of Obradovich "none of them wrested the spotlight from Romney and Perry for long."
And though most agreed that Romney's showing was stronger, "the Texas governor got the most questions from questioners Brian Williams and John Harris, but he also absorbed the most punches from his competitors," according to Politico's Maggie Haberman. "When all the energy is concentrated in one direction, it underscores who is dominating the field — and last night it was Perry who was at the center of attention."
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