Though I’m not alone in thinking that John McCain had the best night yesterday, the clear consensus among conservative bloggers and their readers is that Mitt Romney was the winner. This means that Romney had a very good night. His urgent task in this campaign is to fill the void left by George Allen and others by appealing to the conservative base. The reaction on conservative blogs shows that he made good progress in this effort last night. However, I agree to some extent with Rich Lowry who wrote: “Romney’s incredible polish obviously cuts both ways. It makes him seem presidential. It also makes him seem phony.”
McCain’s mission, I’m pretty sure, was more complicated than Romney’s. He needed to convince the Republican base that he’ll be more effective in fighting terrorists than Giuliani would be, and to conviince center-right voters that he’s more socially conservative than Giuliani, but hasn’t sold his soul to the hard right on these issues. I think McCain did well on both fronts. It was McCain, not Giuliani who sounded toughest on terrorism, and it was Giuliani not McCain who got tripped up on a social issue.
Folks know McCain well, so his ability to improve his image through a debate is limited. By contrast, many voters were focusing on Romney for the first time last night. It’s easy to believe that he made a very good impression on them, as he did on me the first time I saw him in action. The scary thing is that Romney can do better than he did last night.
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