MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) - The headline from this debate? Sparks did not fly. Republicans clearly decided not to look like squabbling Democrats and to concentrate their fire on Democrats and, to a surprising extent, on President Bush: the mismanagement of the war, the spending, the immigration bill. No one was running to carry the legacy of the Bush Administration.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, had a good night. He reminded New Hampshire voters of why they voted for him in 2000. He was, once again, the straight talker. Even on issues where most Republicans disagree with him, like immigration, McCain made his case boldly and honestly. And probably the most effective moment in the debate was his response to the voter who had lost her brother in Iraq. He made the difficult and painful argument that, in the end, she would come to understand that it was all worthwhile. The camera shots of the woman's reaction were amazing. They showed a clear emotional connection with the candidate.
We learned from this debate what the central issue is going to be in the 2008 general election campaign. Republicans will argue that leaving Iraq too soon will increase the threat of terrorism in the United States. Democrats will argue exactly the opposite – that staying in Iraq increases the terrorist threat.
- CNN Senior Poitical Analyst Bill Schneider