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Iowa voters take a lot of information in before they make their decisions, and I’m sure some were watching the CNN debate. The same goes for primary voters in New Hampshire.
But in a debate missing at least two candidates who are likely to be serious contenders for the GOP nomination (Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry), it’s difficult to believe that the June CNN debate made much of an effect on the fight for the nomination.
Still, reporters, handicappers, analysts, talking heads, people famous in their own minds and anyone aspiring to fall into one of those categories all had opinions about who won and who lost, as if the June 13 event was a heavyweight boxing championship or the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, many of the comments told us more about the person commenting than the debate participants.
For example, many people picked Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) as the “winner” of the debate, noting with surprise how well she did compared to the rest of the field. I guess they were expecting her to froth at the mouth.
Before I interviewed Bachmann in 2006, Democratic operatives warned me that the then-state Senator and tax lawyer was a “right-wing” kook, and it could be that some who have never met her assumed that was exactly what they would get on stage at the CNN debate.
But the Bachmann of that debate was the same one I interviewed in 2006, a poised, personable and articulate legislator whom you might not agree with but who certainly can hold her own when she isn’t trying to throw political hand grenades, as she often does.
Conversely, I heard that many observers thought that Pawlenty did poorly and “lost” the debate. He didn’t stand out, they said.
Maybe Pawlenty should have worn a clown outfit or spoken French to stand out to please these observers, who seemed to think that the debate was part of an elimination tournament.
No, Pawlenty didn’t stand out, but it’s June of the year before the caucuses and primaries, and he’ll have many opportunities to present himself to voters. And if he does well in the Iowa straw poll and wins the state’s caucuses, which has absolutely nothing to do with how well or how poorly he did during the CNN debate, then he’ll automatically “stand out” and have a chance for the GOP nomination.
These early debates, assuming the participants keep their cool and say nothing totally weird, are primarily opportunities for the TV networks and sponsoring companies involved to promote themselves and give their employees something to do.
There is nothing wrong with that, just as there is nothing wrong with anyone pronouncing who won and who lost. Just don’t think that it has a lot to do with winning the Republican nomination for president, at least not at this point in the race.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.