Romney Escapes Unscathed in GOP Debate
Experts say the battle now appears to be for second place.
Mitt Romney escaped mostly unscathed, while the remaining GOP candidates looked like they were battling it out for second place in Saturday night's debate.
"This debate proves that the real competition is for second and third place," said Jennifer Horn of Nashua, a former Republican Congressional candidate who recently endorsed Romney. "All the candidates went after each other, not Romney."
"Nothing is going to change anyone's opinion tonight," added Mike Dennehy, a veteran Republican strategist. "Mitt Romney's been very strong. Nobody's knocked him off his game.
"It almost looked like they were fighting among themselves. This may be what it is all about – they're fighting for second place."
Former state Rep. Fran Wendelboe, R-New Hampton said she didn't see anything in Saturday's debate that would "shake Mitt from number one."
Romney has a wide lead in most polls of Granite State voters heading into Tuesday's New Hampshire Primary – with nearly double the support of his closest competition.
Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political scientist, said he was surprised that no one went after Romney.
"I don't think anyone really touched Romney very much," he said.
Jeff Hatch, the Salem town chair for Romney, said he also expected the candidates to "go at it" more on Saturday night, but that never really happened.
"As in other debates, Romney wins because he was once again untouched, and it seems the field has conceded," he said. "As for who finished second, third and fourth, just flip a coin. One thing is for sure, (Rick) Perry should have stayed in Texas."
Former state Rep. Jim Splaine, D-Portsmouth, thought Romney held his own, while Jon Huntsman also looked strong.
Splaine said he thought Perry “struck out, and should have stayed home,” while Rick Santorum did poorly, showing that finishing second in Iowa “meant nothing for him, and doesn’t impress New Hampshire voters.”
Conservative blogger William Smith of Merrimack had Romney and Santorum as his winners, but thought Huntsman did well, too. Ron Paul and Perry were the clear losers in his eyes.
With another debate at 9 a.m. Sunday in Concord, Scala said he expects to see more of the same.
"I’ll be surprised if 12 hours from now they're going to change their minds very much," he said.
Horn agreed, saying "I suspect that it’ll be a similar break down, a similar strategy from all of them" in Sunday's debate.