Fox News and the Iowa Republican party sponsored the final debate Thursday night before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. Here's our take on the winners and losers from Sioux City, Iowa.
Newt Gingrich was clearly relishing his night in the spotlight. Currently leading in the polls, the former House speaker basked in his front-runner status on Thursday, even poking fun at recent critiques of his "zany" reputation. Gingrich almost seem to enjoy being the evening's punching bag, aggressively hitting back his critics and questioning the factual accuracy of complaints leveled against him. (Particularly those by Rep. Michele Bachmann, whose relationship with the facts he called out as dubious.) And despite beingin the first half of the debate, Gingrich rebounded quickly in the night's second hour. Plus, he managed to keep his pledge to positivity - and aimed most of his criticism at president Obama.
As in the early presidential debates, Romney stayed focused on the candidate he clearly sees himself running against down the line: President Obama. The former Massachusetts governor focused his efforts almost exclusively at criticizing the president, and laying out his vision for the future. Romney took swipes at Gingrich in the debate a few days ago, without much luck.. Romney returned to comfortable territory Thursday--hitting Mr. Obama--and it worked. Still, at some point the former Bay State governor will have to prove that he can dish it out just as well as he can take it. After all, in a general election, there won't be another candidate to look ahead to.
Michele Bachmann showed on Thursday that she knows how to take a punch. From lambasting Newt Gingrich for having his "hand out" to mortgage finance giant Freddie Mac to blasting Ron Paul for his position in Iran, the candidate went all out against her opponents. She even sent out a release criticizing "Newt Romney" in the middle of the debate. But confidence has never been Bachmann's problem - and some of her statements have already been proven false, including one about Iran's nuclear capabilities.
He barely registered any screen time for the first half of the debate, but Texas Gov. Rick Perry seemed more confident on stage Thursday night than he has since the early days of his campaign. "I'm kind of starting to like these debates," he quipped at the beginning of the evening. And he displayed equal aplomb knocking his opponents, taking Newt Gingrich to task for being unable to "tell the difference between a lobbyist or a consultant." But, who has made come-from-behind victories a personal specialty. Still, if Perry wants a shot at that sort of comeback, he's going to need to boost his poll numbers - and guarantee himself more stage time in debates.
Ron Paul had a lot of fans in the house in Sioux City - and he was obviously enjoying his moment in the sun. The candidate, who has a huge base in Iowa and is effectively polling third in the state, got significantly more airtime than in any previous debate. And while the Texas congressman - and staunch libertarian - is pretty far outside of the mainstream when it comes to foreign policy, the crowd in Sioux City, Iowa didn't seem to mind too much. Still, it's hard to imagine that Paul picked up a huge number of new supporters Thursday night.
The former Pennsylvania governor did nothing to hurt himself in Thursday's debate, but he also failed to make the leap he needed to significantly raise his profile among the field of contenders. Santorum delivered confident answers on questions about gay marriage and Obamacare - favorite topics of the staunch Christian conservative - but at the end of the day, he failed to deliver the game-changing performance that could have changed his status in the pack.
Jon Huntsman has spent most of the Republican presidential debates on the relative sidelines - and that didn't change in Thursday night's debate. The candidate, who has consistently sat at the bottom of the polls, failed to make a deep impression with the little screen time he got. Despite a few memorable one-liners - including telling voters "we are getting screwed as Americans" -- the candidate likely did little to significantly alter his standing in the field.
More from the debate: