The Fox News-hosted GOP debate in Iowa ended with few clear winners. Usually on-point Michele Bachmann stumbled on a question about her controversial comments regarding submission to her husband and appeared less coherent than in the previous debate. Rick Santorum angrily griped on-camera about not getting enough screen time. Tim Pawlenty came across as an out-of-touch and angry Evangelical.
Front-runner Mitt Romney smiled nervously when digs were made about his record and property ownership, ultimately failing to charm his way out of answering his critics. Ron Paul offered his usual long-winded, but ultimately coherent, opinions on the economy and his pet: "liberty." Herman Cain did little to rise above being universally derided as the "pizza man." And Newt Gingrich behaved like an ego-maniacal thug, albeit with a couple winning moments.
Jon Huntsman stood out from the competition by offering sensible answers on everything from the economy to immigration reform. When asked about granting citizenship to undocumented workers, Huntsman took the high road. He simply refused to answer the question, dismissing it as irrelevant and impractical until the border issue is resolved.
Huntsman referenced his own record on multiple occasions, drawing praise for his comment that, in response to the economy, he would draw off his successes on the state level in Utah by "creating a competitive environment that leads to growth." He refrained from posturing on non-issues like the debt ceiling.
On extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, he towed a moderate and states-oriented line, a move that appeals to both independent voters and traditional Republicans. His record of supporting civil partnerships also puts him ahead of his colleagues on the equality issue and cements his separation of church and state in governance given his Mormon faith.
Multiple crowd-pleasing moments occurred throughout the night. Michele and Pawlenty's fiery back and forth, along with Gingrich's derision of moderator Chris Wallace to his face drew cheers. But at the end of the night, Huntsman escaped the night unscathed and with a noticeably higher correlation between his rhetoric and record than his opponents.
Did you watch the debates? What were your thoughts on the candidates' performances?