Romney, Thompson Winners in Last Debate Before Iowa

Alan Keyes didn’t belong on stage during yesterday’s MSNBC Republican debate in Iowa — the last go around before caucuses next week.  Come to think of it, neither did the moderator.

Stuck on the end of the familiar lineup, Keyes presence cheapened the tone of the afternoon hour and a half performance. While Republicans should be trimming their selection, they expanded. He and the moderator, Carolyn Washburn, editor of the Des Moines Register —  who set a new record for anti-Republican bias — required their own stage when he accused of her skipping him for questions.

Aside from these dud “bombshells”, the other candidates delivered as expected — and the winner was arguably Mitt Romney, according to a Fox News Frank Luntz focus group.

Romney, buttering up the audience, said anyone worried about the future of America should visit Iowa to experience heartland values. He advocated a “coalition of conservatives” to pull together and draw on the strengths all conservative principles, whether they be fiscal, social or otherwise.

At one point, candidates were asked about New Year’s Resolution. Romney had the only satisfactory answer, saying his would be “to have a spirited campaign and come together…as soon as this [primary] is resolved to make somebody on this stage the next President” and to beat the Democrats.

Others said obeying the Constitution, buying American goods, and having more optimism. Rep. Tom Tancredo, whose dwindling poll numbers and media attention confirm what everyone has known since his announcement (that he can’t possibly win)  launched personal attacks at new Iowa frontrunner Gov. Mike Huckabee. Tancredo said that if elected, he would free Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean first and harped on his trademark issue — border security and law enforcement for illegal immigrants.

Each candidate was asked what they intended to accomplish in their first year of presidency. Giuliani said he would secure the country against Islamic terrorism, end illegal immigration, incorporate major tax reduction, move toward energy independence and begin reducing the federal government.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, another impossible dream candidate, said strengthening the US military was most important, and blew off the recent NIE reports that Iran stopped building nuclear weapons in 2003. 

Rep. Ron Paul lamented on ending the war, bringing troops home and becoming “diplomatically credible” again.

Former Senator Fred Thompson said he would first communicate the truth to the American people and then turned to matters of social security and social policy. Romney said he would do “more than talk” in his first year by ending illegal immigration, reducing entitlements, keeping taxes low, becoming energy independent, building a stronger military and promoting stronger family values.

Huckabee suggested none of these goals could occur unless the country returned from polarization and united as a “great, resilient nation.” 

Sen. John McCain claimed he had the “credentials, knowledge, background and judgment” to make American safe, restore trust and confidence in the government, fix Medicare, stop wasteful pork barrel spending and “of course fix our borders.”

Early in the debate, candidates appeared uncomfortable when asked if global warming was man made. When the moderator asked for a show of hands, a slight pause resumed before Thompson refused and asked for time to elaborate on his perspective.  The moderator said no and moved on, at which point everyone attempted to clarify their take on global warming simultaneously.  At that moment, Thompson may have made more ground than at any earlier one in his campaign.  Can he turn this into some sort of momentum?

Some conservative outlets have unofficially said Thompson was the winner, likely due to his hand raising refusal and blatantly calling out the National Education Association. He also joked that he’d like to get to Romney’s income bracket so he “didn’t have to worry about taxes.” Sounds about right to me.