Mitt Romney gave a strong performance tonight in New Hampshire, but the night belonged to Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.
Giuliani had range. He was a master of the facts, such as when he counterpunched on immigration by picking out small details of the bill. He was warm and compassionate with the audience. And he effectively fought through the CNN framing of the questions, a move that many conservatives appreciate because few know how to do it effectively.
McCain was on his game, too, fighting for his life with the base of his party that is outraged with the immigration bill he helped draft. McCain played his service to our country very adroitly this evening and, other than a few rambling moments, and overuse of the phrase, "my friends," came in second.
Romney again was very smooth and knowledgeable but seemed a bit forced at times trying to inject a talking point of looking to the future and being optimistic. It eventually will be an effective theme for him once he incorporates it more naturally. And even though Romney always looks the part of president, Giuliani and McCain both looked more mature and sage.
Mike Huckabee is a likeable figure and clear communicator who gave perhaps the best answer of all the debates when he defended his faith in a question on evolution.
CNN's debate presentation was only slightly better than MSNBC's, with questions heavily tilted toward liberal themes such as abortion, evolution, gays in the military and health care. The candidates did a good job of not following moderator Wolf Blitzer's Democratic leaning tone by ignoring parts or all of his most snarky questions.