Wolf Blitzer gave each candidate a chance to *briefly* introduce themselves, as he did with the Dems Sunday night. Brownback and Romney stretched their intros more than the others. Huckabee said he was from Hope, Arkansas (where Bill Clinton is from). Then he said, "You may have heard of it. I'm asking that you give us one more chance." That got a decent laugh from the audience. That's what I like about Huckabee. He has charisma and a sense of humor but without coming off looking clownish. Very dignified. Ron Paul concluded his introduction by saying, "I am the champion of the constitution." Sweet!
Well, so far no microphones are cutting out, but something has made a loud buzzing noise four times. Once during McCain's intro, once during the moderator's first question, once during Giuliani's first answer, and again between Duncan Hunter and Ron Paul's answers. ...And several more times. I'm going to stop keeping track.
Oh, okay, it's storming over the debate's location, and it's the lightning that's causing the buzzing noise over the sound system. What's funny is that Wolf Blitzer asked Giuliani about a Catholic bishop's quote in which he harshly compared Rudy's stance on abortion to Pontias Pilate being against Jesus's crucifixion but allowing it to happen anyway, and at several points during Rudy's answer, the buzzing noise from the lightning really kicked up. Rudy's microphone also cut out for a few seconds. People laughed about it, thinking the lightning was coincidental timing considering the Biblical overtone of the question. McCain and Brownback, who flank Rudy, even moved back away from him out of jest.
I'm not rating the question about Scooter Libby because I'm just not informed enough on that issue. Right after that question, they start moving out the podiums and moving in the chairs in preparation for the audience getting to ask questions.
At the halfway point, the three front-runners have had 7 or 8 questions each. Everyone else has had between 3 and 5 questions each. No one has had 6 questions. It'd be nice if they gave the 2nd tier candidates more chance to talk.
The first voter question of the night is about the Iraq war from someone whose brother died in the war. When it was McCain's turn to answer, he chose to stand up and walk near the edge of the stage to address the voter. So, now from this point, anyone who doesn't stand up may be criticized for not connecting with the audience well enough, but anyone who does stand up may be accused of copycatting McCain who did it first. On the 2nd question, Giuliani has already chosen option B and has stood up and has walked to the edge of the stage.
I'll bet a million dollars I don't have that Romney will definitely stand up when he gets a question, and I wouldn't be surprised if, from this point forward, everyone stands when they get a question. Who'da thunk we'd get the "Clinton Maneuver" this soon in the debates (no, not that "Clinton Maneuver").
Gilmore is next up on the third question. Yeap, he stands up. Huh, Tancredo didn't stand up. Hunter didn't stand up either. Thompson did stand up on the health care question. Romney did stand up; I'll take my million dollars in direct deposit, check, or $50 & $20 bills, thanks. Huckabee stood up on the question about the most pressing moral issue. He jokes that he's getting all the moral questions tonight which is better than getting all the immoral questions. Good one.
Yay, Ron Paul stood up on the moral question too. He says that our biggest moral issue is that we have now accepted the concept of pre-emptive war and using nukes against countries that haven't done anything to us first (he didn't say this, but isn't weird logic that we'd use nukes against a country because we think it's unacceptable for them to have nukes). Brownback stood up for the moral question too. So far, Tancredo is the only one who hasn't stood. Surely he will next time. Yeap, he's standing on the English-as-official-language question.
Hmm, McCain just answered one question standing up; now he's getting another question again but is sitting down this time. Either he's made his I-can-connect-with-the-people point or he's just tired.
Under my usual scoring system of 3 = excellent answer, 2 = good answer, 1 = fair answer, and 0 = poor answer, the averages really got turned around this time...
[2.000] Rep. Ron Paul (based on 8 questions)
[2.000] Gov. Mike Huckabee (based on 7 questions)
[1.833] Sen. John McCain (based on 12 questions)
[1.429] Gov. Jim Gilmore (based on 7 questions)
[1.429] Rep. Duncan Hunter (based on 7 questions)
[1.429] Rep. Tom Tancredo (based on 7 questions)
[1.333] Gov. Mitt Romney (based on 12 questions)
[1.308] Mayor Rudy Giuliani (based on 13 questions)
[1.250] Sen. Sam Brownback (based on 8 questions)
[1.000] Gov. Tommy Thompson (based on 6 questions)
Ron Paul had two excellent answers, one regarding the mixing of religion and politics, and the other regarding our country's biggest moral issue. Mike Huckabee had one excellent answer regarding creation by God vs. evolution. Tommy Thompson had one poor answer regarding how he would use George W. Bush as a former president. It was poor because he said he would use George W. Bush for motivation and speeches around the world. On the flip side, Tancredo implied he'd leave Bush out of politics altogether. If he hadn't butchered the deliver of his overly elaborate explanation, I would have counted Tancredo's answer as excellent rather than just good. Romney had one poor answer to the very first question about whether it was a mistake to invade Iraq (he basically dodged the question even after Wolf requested he get back on track). All other answers were only good or just fair.
Adding the averages from this debate to the two previous ones, we get...
[6.458] Gov. Mike Huckabee
[6.030] Rep. Ron Paul
[4.850] Sen. Sam Brownback
[4.816] Gov. Mitt Romney
[4.785] Rep. Duncan Hunter
[4.762] Sen. John McCain
[4.543] Gov. Jim Gilmore
[4.308] Mayor Rudy Giuliani
[4.150] Gov. Tommy Thompson
[2.985] Rep. Tom Tancredo
...Which works out to the following rankings:
1st 2nd 3rd Overall Candidate
----- ----- ----- --------- -----------
  [1 tie]  Huckabee
  [1 tie]  Paul
    Brownback
    Romney
  [4 tie]  Hunter
    McCain
  [4 tie]  Gilmore
    Giuliani
    Thompson
  [4 tie]  Tancredo
Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul remain my two favorites. Brownback had a really bad night tonight, but his earlier high scores kept him in third place anyway. Romney maintains the fourth spot although I'm starting to like his answers less and less. Hunter is just barely hanging in the better half of the ten.
McCain is getting better. Even when I don't agree with him, I at least feel that he's starting to sound and act more "presidential." He and Thompson basically swapped the #6 & #9 spots in just one night.
Gilmore and Giuliani maintained their #7 & #8 spots, respectively. A smile might do some good for Gilmore, or else I'll continue to wonder if he really wants to run (or if the party drafted him to service). And, it would help Giuliani if he were actually a Republican. Despite coming out of the gate strong in the first debate, Thompson is slipping fast.
Tancredo, amazingly enough, redeemed himself some tonight with some decent answers and getting himself in a three-way tie for #4. He's still painfully inarticulate, but I'm starting to hear past the stammering and beginning to hear a good message--on some topics. He got burned by the others near the end of the night when he chose to attack not just illegal immigration but *legal* immigration too. I don't know if that was a verbal slip up or his actual stance, but I think it'll hurt him. His scores from the first two debates were still low enough to keep him in last place overall.
I'm guessing my opinions are fairly "alternative" in that I like the 2nd tier candidates better than the front-runners, but I really wish a few people would drop out so that other 2nd tier guys would have a chance of breaking into the upper echelon. If Tancredo and either Gilmore or Tommy Thompson would drop out, Huckabee, Paul, Brownback, or Hunter might actually have a chance. In my eyes Biden has the best chance of breaking through on the Democrat side, but somehow, despite being lackluster candidates, Giuliani, McCain, and Romney seemed to have the front-runner Republican status locked up amongst themselves.