Politically Speaking: Gingrich, Santorum, Bachmann impress at Sioux City debate

2011-12-15T23:46:00Z Politically Speaking: Gingrich, Santorum, Bachmann impress at Sioux City debateBy Bret Hayworth Sioux City Journal
December 15, 2011 11:46 pm  • 

The candidates have held forth, the Siouxland crowd has exited (while verbally jousting with a few Occupy Sioux City people) and the cleaning crews are working through the Sioux City Convention Center. Time to rate how the seven Republican presidential candidates fared in a two-hour debate broadcast by Fox News (or "Faux News" as one Occupy sign read).

Newt Gingrich, viewed as the most able debater in the 2012 Republican field, took some hits early in the debate, particularly for taking $1.6 million in Freddie Mac funds. One of the big critics was Michele Bachmann, who said Gingrich "had his hand out" to Freddie Mac.

That early hit led me to believe Gingrich would be in for a rough evening, but he rebounded well as the debate went on. He certainly has a vibrant ego (comparing himself to Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and FDR) and knowledge of history, and delivered a big applause line to the crowd of 1,700 in saying law schools are making lawyers too empowered in American society.

So Gingrich fits in the top tier of performers tonight. I'll rank them this way: (1) Gingrich, (2) Rick Santorum, (3) Bachmann,  then Mitt Romney and Ron Paul in the middle tier, followed by Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman at the bottom.

Speaking with former Iowa House Speaker Christopher Rants of Sioux City after the debate, he agreed Santorum had a strong night. Santorum hit a high point in talking about the dangers of Iran obtaining nuclear weapon capabilities, putting a verbal hurt on Texas Congressman Paul. 

Santorum also didn't hesitate to throw out that he's the only candidate to have campaigned in all 99 Iowa counties. Maybe the good debate performance will allow Santorum to rise in the polls from the single digits where he's long wallowed.

Minnesota Congresswoman Bachmann had three notable moments -- hitting Gingrich on Freddie Mac, also joining in the lecturing of Paul on his "dangerous" Iran views and in astutely referencing the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were removed from their positions in 2010 after being involved in an April 2009 ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in Iowa.

Romney seemed to stay in the middle of the pack, making headway with some comments, but never delivering a "yowza" moment. He was directly asked by Chris Wallace about flip-flops on issues, to which Romney made one concession: "With regards to abortion, I changed my mind."

Paul kept proudly showing his libertarian streak, such as the pull-back foreign policy. His remarks on Iran -- that there was no evidence that Iran is close to getting nuclear capability, that "it is another Iraq coming" -- don't fit well with traditional Republicans.

In the bottom tier, former Utah Gov. Huntsman receded for much of the time. At one point, he hadn't spoken for so long, I forgot he was among the participants.

Perry just doesn't do well in debates, the Sioux City event included. But he did have one notable line: "I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses," a reference to the Denver Broncos quarterback with a penchant for comeback wins.

I spoke with a few people as they exited at 10 p.m. Joan Heinle of Whiting, Iowa, said none of the candidates excelled. However, she had a strong opinion on who fared worst -- Perry, hands down.

Former Sioux City councilman Brent Hoffman said he's watched many of the 2011 debates on television, but seeing a debate in person gave a great perspective.

"I see now why (Newt) Gingrich and (Mitt) Romney are the frontrunners. They simply handle themselves more articulately," Hoffman said.

Copyright 2015 Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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