A tale of two debates: Mitt Romney endures attacks while Jon Huntsman Jr. hits his stride

Published: Sunday, Jan. 8 2012 11:00 a.m. MST

"What are the three areas that (I) would make some reductions that people would feel some pain?" Perry said Sunday, repeating an earlier question from Gregory. "And I will tell you, it would be those bureaucrats at the Departments of Commerce and Energy and Education that we're going to do away with." He capped the comment with a wink and a nod.

But Perry's debate performance was notable for more than just its theatrics — he made repeated references to the tea party and, near the end, called Pres. Barack Obama a "socialist."

"It's probably too late for Perry, but a performance like this makes his last stand in South Carolina a more plausible effort," Ball noted for The Atlantic.

Saturday summaries

Seemingly without exception, political pundits concurred that the Saturday debate was far less colorful and lively than its Sunday successor — thanks in large part to the fact that nobody really went after Romney on Saturday night.

The Washington Post opined, "The former Massachusetts governor glided to a victory in Saturday's debate as none of his rivals seemed willing to challenge him in any sustained way. (Why not? We have no idea.)"

Appearing Sunday morning on the ABC News show "This Week," former Arkansas Gov. and 2008 Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee said, "I think everybody thought that (Saturday) was going to be a pile-up and that Mitt Romney's car would be right in middle of it, but it appeared that everybody was a little hesitant, if not timid, in going after him directly. … You know, I don't explain it. It's inexplicable to me."

Huntsman's Mandarin moment

The most memorable exchange of Saturday's debate likely stemmed from Huntsman trying to throw Romney off-guard by suddenly telling a joke in Mandarin and then immediately offering his own English translation.

"During Saturday's debate (Huntsman) chose to go Chinese by joking in Mandarin to make a point that Mitt Romney didn't, as they say in Iowa, 'know the territory' when speaking on China policy," Chris Higbee wrote for the Deseret News.

Latest N.H. polling

In its daily polling of New Hampshire voters likely to participate in Tuesday's primary, Suffolk University announced Sunday that Romney is slipping a bit in the Granite State as Huntsman surges into third place.

"Romney dropped 4 percentage points overnight to 35 percent. The former Massachusetts governor still holds a 15-point lead, but his margin has declined by 8 percentage points since last Tuesday. … Romney is followed by Paul (20 percent), Huntsman (11 percent), Newt Gingrich (9 percent) and Santorum, who dropped another point overnight to 8 percent."

ABC News and New Hampshire television station WMUR sponsored Saturday's debate. Facebook, NBC News and the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper organized the debate on Sunday.

EMAIL: jaskar@desnews.com

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