For the third time in a row, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry sparred while the other GOP candidates were merely sideshows, and for the third time in a row the experts say Romney won.
"Romney Tops Perry in Third Debate Showdown," reads today's headline at Fox News — the network that, along with Google, hosted Thursday night's debate in Orlando.
CBS News put Romney at the top of its list of "winners" and Perry at the top of the "losers."
"The former governor of Massachusetts was the clear winner of the Orlando debate … ," the article stated matter-of-factly. "He's run a presidential campaign before and it shows. His answers were polished and on message."
On the other hand, Perry was "caught flat-footed from the very beginning when asked about the specific policies he would implement to revive the economy," the three CBS News writers said. "Perry didn't seem to have a response and resorted to speaking in generalities."
Fox News' Christ Stirewalt said simply, "Rick Perry is not a good debater."
Peter Lawler admittedly only watched half the debate, but the renowned scholar of political philosophy noted the reactions from Fox's focus group of GOP voters and wrote, "The focus group overwhelmingly thought Romney won, and a significant number of group members claimed to have recently switched to Romney. The buzz words: competence and specificity. I would agree he displayed those qualities."
Perry's third sub-par performance raises questions once again about Perry's electability. At the Caucus, the government and politics blog of the New York Times, David Leonhardt wrote under a headline "Debate Reinforces Republican Concerns About Perry" that GOPers should "Prepare yourself for at least one news cycle filled with questions about whether Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has lost his status as the Republican presidential front-runner."
The headline at the ABC News blog, the Note, was "Mitt Romney Goes To The Head Of The (Debate) Class." Michael Falcone and Amy Walters wrote that "The former Massachusetts governor is the 2012 Republican primary's star student and debates are his best subject. That showed on stage as he landed a number of clean hits on Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose responses to some questions were more uneven, and, at times, rambling.
"As one smart Republican strategist told The Note after the debate, "The only thing more crisp than Mitt Romney's answers was the white shirt he gave them in."
The Note also took note of Romney's mistake, which it quoted both in its story and then by reprinting this tweet: "@dickstevenson: 'There are a lot of reasons not to elect me.' That line is guaranteed to be in an anti-Romney ad very, very soon. #gopdebate"
Stevenson was right. By this morning, the Democratic National Committee had created a highlights package of the debate that included Romney's statement. "We couldn't agree more," the ad answers.
"Romney backers recognized last night that that was an off moment for the former governor," Politico's Alexander Burns wrote. "Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, appearing in the spin room for Romney, said he wished his candidate had chosen different words but 'you're gonna have a clunker once in a while.'"
Here's the DNC's video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mlgro_IOTI
Here are some of the best exchanges from the debate:
Is Romneycare Obamacare-lite?
On Jobs Plan
On Social Security
Is Obama a Socialist