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GOP debate in Vegas: Winners and losers

Republican presidential candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry speak during a Republican presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) Chris Carlson

The latest - and most contentious - Republican presidential debate of the 2012 cycle has wrapped up in Las Vegas, which means it's time to look at who had a night to remember and who had one to forget:


Barack Obama: Near the end of the debate, Newt Gingrich stated that "maximizing bickering is probably not the road to the White House." It's a good point: The debate was awash in interruptions, accusations and petty point scoring that made all involved look less than presidential. The Obama reelection team must have been thrilled to see the debate devolve into the sort of nastiness that leaves no one involved entirely untarnished. And they surely didn't mind that the candidates are starting to turn as much of their firepower on each other as they are the president.

Mitt Romney: Despite predictions that Tuesday's debate would be a largely Herman Cain-centric affair, Romney was the dominant presence in the evening's event - and he didn't pull his punches. The candidate who has been criticized as the Republican answer to John Kerry showed plenty of personality (some might even say too much) when beating back attacks from his fellow candidates. Whether schooling Newt Gingrich on his support for the individual health care mandate, hammering Herman Cain for details on his 9-9-9 plan, or going head-to-head with Rick Perry over immigration, Romney may have helped put to rest concerns that he's not willing to take the gloves off.

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Newt Gingrich: Yes, he sometimes seemed condescending, and yes, he once again attacked debate moderators for wanting to spur...debate. But Gingrich's campaign is in the midst of a surprising resurrection from a series of early missteps, and he kept doing what has been working for him on Tuesday. The former speaker was professorial, making historical references left and right and casting himself as an ideas man who is someone above the fray. It's probably not going to lead him to the nomination, but it's turning what had been a catastrophic campaign into a respectable one.

Rick Santorum: Santorum manage to get a lot of airtime for a candidate who once said he likes to be at the "back of the pack." He had some sharp words for Romney and his Massachusetts health care plan, which Santorum pointed out was used as a model for President Obama's 2009 overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system. He also was able to tout his family values credentials in his criticism of Cain's tax plan, which will play well with his core supporters.


Herman Cain: Cain was attacked from the outset, with all of the other candidates sharply panning his signature 9-9-9 tax plan. While a certain segment of voters may be encouraged by such a strong rebuke, voters who are just hearing about the plan as a result of his newfound popularity may not be quite so impressed with the former Godfather's Pizza CEO after such a unanimous smack down. And after the initial flurry of criticism, Cain largely faded from view for the rest of the debate.

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Michele Bachmann: Bachmann was once considered a major presence in the Republican presidential debates. On Tuesday, it was painfully obvious just how far her star has fallen. The candidate repeatedly and awkwardly lobbied for attention, yelling out "Anderson!" in the direction of moderator Anderson Cooper on multiple occasions. Given the chance to address the problem of foreclosures on homeowners in Nevada - a crucial issue in a state that has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country - she instead delivered a lengthy speech offering hope to moms. The Minnesota congresswoman needs to create contrasts with her fellow candidates if she wants to make a comeback in the polls. For the most part, she missed her chances.

Jon Huntsman: Huntsman could hardly be considered a winner in Tuesday's debate - he didn't even show up to it. The former Utah governor announced last week that he would sit out the event in protest of Nevada's decision to push up its primary date; instead, he spent the evening snacking on cider and cookies at an event in New Hampshire, the make-or-break state for his campaign. Still, Huntsman's evening wasn't a total loss: The quippy candidate managed to take some shots at the "game show" spectacle going on across the country - and he got some decent coverage out of it. Just not enough to offset his absence.

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Rick Perry: On the one hand, Perry seemed to finally show signs of life Tuesday night: He sparred aggressively with Romney in sharp contrast to his performance at the debate one week ago, when he often seemed disinterested and lost. Yet Perry didn't always seem to get the better of those battles, and he still had a few of those brain-freeze moments that have become all too familiar to debate watchers. Tuesday night was a step in the right direction for Perry, but it wasn't the great leap forward he needs to recapture his early momentum.

Ron Paul: Paul struggled to get airtime. Again. The Texas lawmaker was mostly a non-factor in the debate, repeating many of the complaints he has made more than once - among them that the "business cycle" is to blame for the nation's current economic woes. That's not exactly a surefire way to attract anxious voters. Still, Paul once again shone as a candidate with the courage of his convictions, and that's not something that every candidate on that stage could plausibly say.

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