Despite the 100 laptops urgently typing away here in the press room, it's hard to say much really happened at the first Republican presidential primary debate.
The early campaign's Big Three — McCain, Romney and Rudy — all performed well and avoided any deadly mistakes.
None of the dark horse candidates broke through, although several performed credibly and probably increased interest in their campaigns.
Each of the Big Three had their strong moments.
John McCain made the biggest strategic move of the night, reaching back out to the center with a blunt appraisal of the Bush administration's many mistakes in the Iraq war and expressing strong support for stem cell research.
While these issues are not GOP primary orthodoxy, McCain is never going to be the perfect Republican base candidate. By reaching back to his reformist, centrist roots, a feisty McCain clearly is making a move to reconnect with independent voters.
I think this is a shrewd move, because the authentic McCain is the most impressive McCain to voters, even conservative primary voters.
After a troubling several weeks, McCain is showing his campaign can adjust and improve.
Rudy Giuliani integrated his record of New York City successes into current national problems. But his performance was not as strong as his polling position.
Mitt Romney was smooth and probably won some new admirers for his presidential style.
That said, each had a stumble or two.
McCain had a Yosemite Sam moment early in the debate as he vowed to deposit Osama bin Laden into the gates of hell.
Rudy got tied up in the sharp end of abortion politics with a cloudy answer about his position on Roe v. Wade. He'll need to get a lot crisper to survive the campaign.
Mitt Romney fumbled a bit on a very predictable question about his evolution on the abortion issue, essentially repeating his answer twice in an awkward loop.
Among the other candidates, Sam Brownback had a particularly strong night. He talked with passion and elegance about the social issues that are the backbone of his candidacy.
Surprisingly, Congressman Tom Tancredo didn't hammer the powerful immigration issue.
The bottom line: 90 minutes, 10 candidates, no knockouts, no big changes.
Mike Murphy is a Republican political consultant who in the past has advised the campaigns of former Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain and former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson. He is also a screenwriter.
By Mike Murphy
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