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Live Blog: The GOP Debate

The debate ends: More winners than losers.  Gingrich, Santorum and Perry all did well. Romney took punches but none did much damage. That means frontrunner leaves the stage still in a commanding position.

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Romney scores with attack on McCain-Feingold. Super PAC ads are the fruit of campaign finance “reform.”

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Romney: Gingrich’s super PAC-funded documentary about Bain is the biggest hoax since Bigfoot.

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Gingrich nails Romney again on super PAC ads. Of course, his own super PACs have been just as bad.

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Santorum: Ron Paul’s vote on gun manufacturers liability law would have wiped out 2nd amendment.

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Romney says pro-gun groups backed the gun control law he signed. Turns it around and attacks Obama as an anti-gun president. Santorum says NRA agreed with him too.

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Looks like the Santorum-Gingrich non-aggression pact is over.

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Santorum says Romney’s and Gingrich’s plans are not bold enough. Says Gingrich’s idea about guaranteed private accounts won’t work in a down economy. Says it’s fiscal insanity.

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Gingrich puts on his historian hat and talks Chilean social security. Again, this is Newt at his best.

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Romney lays out Ryanesque proposal for Medicare and Social Security reform. Closes by saying you also repeal Obamacare.

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Perry’s probably giving his strongest debate yet. Too bad for him it comes when his campaign is on life support.

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Paulbots boo Romney for saying Americans that join al Qaeda should be treated as enemy combatants. Shows how out of touch his isolationist fans are.

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Perry brings up question of Marines urinating on Taliban and makes strong point about supporting the military and Obama admin’s failure to do so.

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Perry criticizes Turkey. But then scores with comment that moderators need a gong to deal with Paul’s comments about bin Laden killing.

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Santorum says US should isolate Syria and Assad, not Israel. Foreign policy remains one of his strong points.

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Romney says Biden is wrong about negotiating with Taliban. Don’t negotiate with anyone while they’re killing US soldiers.

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Romney chimes in with Romney and says the best thing for terrorists who kill Americans is the bullet in the head that bin Laden received.

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Gingrich calls out Paul for comparing bin Laden to a Chinese dissident. Not a rational position. About time somebody said Paul wasn’t rational. Says Andy Jackson knew what to do with the enemy: kill them! Great applause line. Paul replies that the golden rule should apply to national defense. No wonder he’s doing better with Dems than Republicans.

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Ron Paul called out for opposing killing of Osama bin Laden. He claims he was for it but opposed violation of Pakistani sovereignty. And then makes an analogy between the U.S. and Communist China. Another crazy Paul contradiction. Thinks bin Laden should have been captured with help of Pakistanis? Not a serious position.

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Gingrich called on his comments about minority kids needing to learn to work. Refuses to accept that it’s racist to say it. Another good moment for him. He says Obama is the food stamps president. Gingrich rhetoric hearkens back to GOP’s best moments in welfare reform debate of the 90s. Juan Williams attack was a break for Newt.

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Paul gets to talk about the drug war being bad. This is what his core supporters want to hear: legalize dope!

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Santorum scores again with family values argument. This is his strength.

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Romney’s position on the Dream Act is wrong and does hurt the GOP with Hispanics. But his position that illegals shouldn’t gain an advantage is hard to argue with.

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Romney says he’ll release his tax records in April. That will probably be the end of it.

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Paul tries to argue that cutting defense will strengthen defense. Impossible argument. But his fans love the isolationism. They ignore his gaffe about the spending on our embassy in Iraq. It’s paid for by the State Dept. budget, not DOD.

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Romney gets to talk about getting government out of the economy. This is his wheelhouse and enables him to start attacking Obama which is what he wants to do.

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Gingrich talks about the GOP being for work. He’s always at his best when he’s attacking Democrats, not Republicans.

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Rick Santorum takes on sacred cow of extending unemployment insurance. Excellent point that will be demagogued by Dems.

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Juan Williams asks about Obama administration’s attempt to attack voter ID laws and frames it as an attack on voting rights. Perry will have none of it as Gov. Nikki Haley applauds in the audience. Good moment for Perry.

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So are the quotes about Huntsman’s flip-flop on Romney aimed at Romney or Huntsman? His story about his change of mind about abortion sounds good. Of course, the truth is not quite that simple.

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At the first break, Rommey taking all the punches but I doubt that being vindicated on felon voting rights will make the difference for Santorum. But he’s not going down without a fight. Gingrich sounded defensive on Bain. Perry incoherent on everything.

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Santorum making a meal out of super PAC ad. Romney stays calm. Perry then chimes in with states rights argument that gets cheers but is really beside the point.

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Santorum calls out Romney for his super PAC ad about voting rights. Romney doesn’t have a good answer and then Santorum mentions more liberal Mass. law. Good moment for Santorum.

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Ron Paul says nothing wrong with negative advertising as long as it’s true. Can’t argue with that. But Santorum answers back that Paul is quoting leftist groups that aren’t credible.

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Romney’s blames China and their unfair trade practices for failed steel company. He had to be thinking of Huntsman.

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Perry’s not afraid to dive into the Bain pool. But the contradiction between his anti-regulatory position and his attack on Romney is pretty obvious. Mentions steel that Bain invested in that failed. Does he think viewers don’t know that the decline of American steel didn’t have much to do with Romney.

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Romney’s answer: I had experience turning around tough situations. He sounds relaxed confident. Gingrich tense, tight, defensive. No mystery about who’s way ahead in the polls.

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The longer Gingrich is talking about his Michael Moore-type slams at Romney, the worse it is for him.

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First question: Gingrich gets called on leftist attack on Romney. Gingrich’s answer: unilateral disarmament isn’t the answer. True but the reason why his attacks boomeranged was because he attacked from the left while claiming to be the true conservative.

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Now the candidates will get one minute and thirty seconds for their answers. I guess that should make all the difference.

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For once the applause at the debates isn’t skewed toward Ron Paul. Looks like the other campaigns got their supporters into the hall in sufficient numbers.

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Watching FOX while waiting for the debate to begin, Karl Rove makes a good point that Newt Gingrich actually helped unify a lot of conservatives behind Mitt Romney by attacking his business record. The law of unintended consequences prevails again.