Less than twenty-four hours after the ten announced Republican presidential candidates squared off at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library last night, reviews from the party brass — that is, state party chairmen and Republican National Committeemen and Committeewomen have started to come in.
“The top three are still the top three,” Michigan State GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis told me this morning, referring to perceived front-runners John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney. According to Anuzis, “Romney was poised and prepared, and gave a solid performance. McCain’s strongest moment came when he said he would follow Osama to the ‘gates of Hell,’ although the smile after that took away from a home run.”
If the Water Wonderland GOP chieftain had any criticism, it was of Giuliani: “Giuliani did well, but it wasn’t his best answer on abortion, which is important to our base.” Anuzis also praised the performance of former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, saying that the Old Dominion State man made “a strong showing.”
As if to speak for his fellow state party leaders, Anuzis hailed the GOP field as a group that showed “leadership, experience, and [one that] exuded strength, while offering healthy and diverse visions as to how we should proceed as a party and a country.”
Connecticut State GOP Chairman Chris Healy heartily concurred. “All of our candidates were extremely well-prepared and displayed a breadth of knowledge, especially on the very key issues of taxes and terrorism. Any foreign leader who thought he gets a patsy in the next Republican president had second thoughts if he tuned in last night. The next Republican president understands the issues and the stakes.”
Healy went on to say the panel of candidates at the Reagan Library last night “could easily be the next Cabinet — I could see [California Rep.] Duncan Hunter as secretary of defense in a heartbeat, [former Arkansas Gov.] Mike Huckabee as secretary of health and human services, and Jim Gilmore as attorney general.” The Nutmeg State chairman also singled out Huckabee’s performance, adding “he did very well last night — very genuine.”
There were other opinions of the debate and the format themselves that were not so complimentary. North Dakota’s Republican National Committeewoman Connie Nicholas didn’t watch the program. “Too many people ‘debating,’ and asking questions. The format should be changed,” she told me.
“They all lost to Fred Thompson, and he wasn’t even there!” quipped Texas National Committeewoman Denise MacNamara, an unabashed booster of the former Tennessee senator’s still-unannounced campaign. She said that the ten last night were, in her view, “auditioning to be vice president.”