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Live Blog: The GOP Presidential Debate

We came into the evening wondering whether Herman Cain would sound serious enough but after 2 hours, it was clear that Mitt Romney was still the main target for most of the other candidates. He took a lot of shots but emerged still sounding strong and was again the best debater on stage. Perry sounded better but not good enough to recover from his past debacles. It’ll be interesting to see whether the next round of polls shows Cain losing a bit ground and Romney staying on top.

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The debate ends abruptly with Michele Bachmann complaining that there was no equal time. She’s right about that.

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Mitt keeps saying he’s a businessman, as if he’s competing with Cain for the anti-politician vote. Of course, he’s spent most of the 20 years running for one office or another. Cain then says the difference between their business experience is that he’s main street, not Wall Street. Mitt answers by listing the companies he started. Enough already.

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Romney and Perry are squabbling again about jobs record. Romney throws in the jibe about Perry backing Al Gore against Bush the elder. Still waiting for someone to bash Bachmann for supporting Jimmy Carter.

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Question about electability elicits Santorum’s bragging about winning in a swing state. He again omits his landslide loss in 2006 in that same state.

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This last segment reminded us of Perry’s past problem in debates. He knew what he wanted to say about the Palestinians and the UN but couldn’t spit it out without stumbling.

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Ron Paul has a point when he says Ronald Reagan traded arms for hostages with Iran. The point is, once you’re president and have to deal with the appeals of a nation that wants hostages freed, even the toughest leader may no longer stick to slogans about never dealing with terrorists.

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Cain says don’t give money to enemies, give it friends like Israel.

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Ron Paul says cut aid to Israel. Michele Bachmann speaks up for Israel and blames troubles in the region on Obama’s distancing the U.S. from Israel.

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Rick Perry turns a question about foreign aid into one about defunding the UN. Romney doesn’t mention the UN but takes a shot at foreign aid as well as China.

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Would any one of these candidates trade prisoners for a hostage? Herman Cain wants to support Netanyahu but the more he talks about it, the more confused he sounds. Santorum eloquently denounces the threat from Iran and attacks Ron Paul on defense.

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Nearly 90 minutes into the debate, we get the first mention of foreign policy as Michele Bachmann ticks off a number of events in the last week and tears into Iran. Newt then attempts to change the subject to a rant about the budget supercommittee.

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Romney gets to the heart of the problem by denouncing Perry supporter’s attempt to persuade people to vote based solely on religion. That attack only winds up helping Romney.

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Gingrich tries to turn the question into defense of faith not prejudice. Perry follows his lead while saying he “didn’t agree” with supporter who attacked Mormons.

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Cooper raises the attack on Mormons by a Perry supporter. Santorum is given an opportunity to give a straight forward denunciation of prejudice. He fails to do so. Gingrich speaks up for the importance of faith.

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There’s no question that Perry had delivered a stronger performance and Romney has spent more time on the defensive than before.

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So far this has definitely been the most spirited of all the GOP debates and perhaps the best television.

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Romney keeps trying to refocus discussion on Obama’s failures. He’s the only one on the stage thinking about the general election.

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Cain draws applause for first shot of the night at Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. Says Wall Street isn’t to blame for bad policies, Obama is. He’s right about that.

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Santorum goes for the Tea Party vote by bashing TARP. Lucky for him, he lost in a landslide in 2006 so he wasn’t in office then. As a member of the Senate GOP leadership, there’s no way he would have voted against it had he still been in the Senate.

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Mitt agrees with Ron Paul about Yucca Mountain. He’d like to carry Nevada next November. So would Rick Perry.

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A question about Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste. Yes, we’re in Nevada. Newt answers logically but I doubt anyone in Nevada wants to hear anything but to keep the stuff out. Ron Paul turns it into a matter of states rights and opposing state-subsidized religion.

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Santorum reaches out to Hispanics on traditional values, faith and families. It’s his strong point.

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Anderson Cooper is right about the 14th amendment being a problem for anti-immigration activists.

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Perry seems to be trying a little too hard to overcome his past bad performances. The smear of Romney was an overreach and hurts him not Mitt. But at least he isn’t looking lost on the stage.

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Once again, Romney goes for the big picture and says Republicans like legal immigrants. An important point to be made for next November. Mitt then likens Perry’s “experience” in fighting illegals to a college coach who loses 40 games in a row wanting to go to the NFL. Ouch. Perry responds by repeating his smear about Mitt hiring illegals which draws boos. Point to Romney.

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Perry is right that all this big fence rhetoric is unrealistic.

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Bachmann tries to outdo Cain on building a bigger fence and she wants Obama’s relatives to get lost too.

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Time for Cain to account for his electrified fence “joke.” Typical unserious remark by Cain but he’s undaunted.

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Perry angrily sticks to his claim that Mitt hired illegals. Mitt makes a coherent defense. That dog hunt won’t hunt especially since it’s a transparent attempt to distract conservatives from Perry’s own more liberal stances on the issue.

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Perry turns into immigration hawk and turns on Romney and claims he hired illegal immigration. Romney laughs out loud and says he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

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Now it’s time for everyone to bash Obamacare. The scuffle turns into consensus.

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The first segment of the debate was taken up with attacks on Cain and Romney. The latter emerges a bit stronger than the former. But it must also be said that the surprise so far is Perry’s strong start. Had he sounded like this in the previous debates, he’d still be the frontrunner.

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Romney is quick on his feet and he’s playing defense on this issue for months which helps him slip some of these punches.

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After the gang tackle on Cain, it’s time for everyone else to beat up Romney on health care.

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Santorum lands the first punch at Romney about Obamacare. Romney is still refusing to own up to the similarities between Obamacare and his Mass. law. Santorum and Perry won’t let him get away with it.

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Instead of attacking Romney’s economic plan, Perry gets fired up about energy independence. He’s certainly wide awake tonight. Romney responds amiably returning to big picture economics. He’s got to be feeling confident.

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Newt gives Cain a condescending pat on the head for trying. Time for the debate to move on.

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Cain is still smiling but he was the clear loser in this exchange. Everyone agrees he’s a nice guy but doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

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Romney concludes the gang tackle by cogently pointing out that Perry was right about Cain doubling up sales taxes in some states. He calmly dissects Cain and then tries to turn the conversation back to the big picture of the economy.

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Now it’s Ron Paul’s turn to attack Cain. The question is, does Cain benefit from being the center of attention or does his smooth if simplistic defense of 9-9-9 fly.

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Perry piles on, telling his “brother” Cain that his plan won’t fly. Cain says he’s mixing apples and oranges. He’s not faltering but is anyone buying it?

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Herman Cain says his plan is opposed by accountants, lobbyists and politicians who like the current situation. He looks undaunted but both Bachmann and Santorum land solid punches. Santorum’s attack on it as anti-family is telling. All Cain can do is to keep telling people to read his own analysis.

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First question gives Michele Bachamnn a chance to take the first shot at the “problem solver’s” 9-9-9 plan. She says Congress will take a 9 percent sales tax will be run up by a liberal president and Congress to maybe 90 percent. Also makes a good point about taxing profits.

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Herman Cain claims he “solves problems for a living.” Romney says he solves problems too but also helps people. Rick Perry looking a bit livelier than usual says he’s “an authentic conservative not one of convenience.” Pretty clear who he’s talking about, right, Mitt?

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Anderson Cooper promises to be fair. Whatever happens, it can be as bad as Charlie Rose’s “kitchen table.”

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I hope everyone is standing at attention in front of their computers with caps off and hands over their hearts.

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The debate is about to start. CNN leads with what looks like an homage to the old Marlboro man commercial. The only thing missing was Jon Huntsman driving his motorbike through the scenery. He’ll also be missing on stage tonight. No one will care.



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