Huckabee, I think, stood out in this debate as the one who made sense, talked as ordinary people do, and rose above politics. They may have scored. He connected. And that’s a problem for Romney, who would like to become the alternative to John McCain among conservatives who oppose the Arizona senator. But he has very tough competition from Huckabee, who’s forcing people to re-think his run at a time when he was supposed to be out of the game.
But this has always been the way he’s worked: Romney uses money to stay competitive. Huckabee has debates.
I don’t think McCain made many gains – and I think he may have caused people to re-think the race. I don’t think this was his strongest night, not because he was under attack. But because he wasn’t a straight talker. He talked very much like a politician. He was making a lot of charges at Romney – some of which, like the timetable charge, seemed very questionable.
A couple of Romney’s answers were quite good, particularly on the Iraq timetables issue. I don’t think he did himself any harm. But I think the one who really helped himself was Huckabee.
All in all: Huckabee gained ground, McCain probably lost ground, and Romney didn’t help or hurt himself – although he did effectively defend himself. McCain sounded petty – and that’s not the McCain voters know and like.
But to the extent that Huckabee may have made any gains from his performance, Romney’s got bigger worries out of tonight than the Arizona senator.