U.S. Republican presidential candidates gather before the start of their debate in Ames, Iowa August 11, 2011. They are (from L to R) Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich.The first big shakeout of the 2012 presidential nominating contest comes this Saturday with the Ames Straw Poll. It's a test both of the candidates organizational skills they would need to win the Iowa Caucus and the first real indication of voter interest. That made Thursday's debate a make or break moment for some lesser known candidates and gave voters nationwide a good look at the field as well.
Here's just a few quick thoughts along with a + or - for the individual candidates performance:
Rick Santorum + This was Santorum's moment to try and break out of the also ran pack. He felt the moderator was ignoring him at key moments so he seized the initiative and the floor to get attention. He also let it be known that he's running to the right of Michelle Bachmann on social issues. Rick's longterm prognosis? Not so good.
Herman Cain - Is it just me or are you getting just a bit tired of Cain's lack of specifity and depth on issues? He can be forgiven for not knowing the details of obscure foreign policy issues but at some point needs to show he has more to his candidacy.
Ron Paul -- He was doing great until he started going off on a rant about letting Iran have nuclear weapons and suggesting they are not a treat. Apparently he's forgotten all the hundreds of Americans killed by Iran and their proxies over the years.
Mitt Romney + All Mitt had to do on Thursday was show up and not make any mistakes and he'll hold on to his national frontrunner status. That be enough to help him win Iowa, but he doesn't care. He's got some good ideas and some great lines, but mostly when he speaks my mind wanders elsewhere.
Michele Bachmann - Once again she showed she can hold her own and more with the big boys. But it got a bit too nasty and personal with Pawlenty and made them both look bad. Yet, she's manage to shoot to the top of the GOP contest.
Tim Pawlenty - Everyone's been saying that Pawlenty needed to be more aggressive and show he's not just Mr. Nice Guy. After going after Michelle Bachmann for her failure to achieve the goals she set people are now saying he should stick to being nice. His performance Thursday didn't help him.
Jon Huntsman +- New Mexico's former Governor Gary Johnson got bumped from this debate so I guess they needed to fill the spot and found another also ran with Huntsman. I don't know what base he appeals to. He just seems so vanilla!
Newt Gingrich ++ The former Speaker was looking for a chance to re-establish himself in the campaign and got it Thursday. His direct and forceful replies must have had his fans cheering. Will that be enough to help him pull out of his slump nationally?
Next Debate will be September 7th at the Reagan Library in California. Stay Tuned!