Democratic pollster, author, and Fox News contributor Doug Schoen slammed former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s performance in New Hampshire on Monday, calling it “tepid,” and declared former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann the big winners in the debate.
Pundit Schoen said Bachmann won the “primary-within-the-primary” debate over which grass-roots conservative candidate would emerge as Romney’s No. 1 challenger for the nomination.
In an exclusive interview, Schoen told Newsmax.TV: “The big winners were Mitt Romney the establishment candidate, who came through largely unscathed, and Michele Bachmann, who appeared for the time being to win the primary-within-the-primary, to be the alternative, hopefully within her mind, tea party candidate to establishment candidate Mitt Romney.
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Schoen said Romney turned in an impressive performance and “was most presidential.”
“I think Mitt Romney was most presidential,” Schoen said, adding that he had met the high expectations he faced as the favorite of the GOP establishment coming into the debate. “But in a climate of dissatisfaction, where people are angry at the established order, that’s a double-edged sword.
“And I think Michele Bachmann demonstrated that she has the energy, the enthusiasm, and arguably the message to take the fight directly to the former Massachusetts governor.”
One candidate who surprisingly shied away from going toe-to-toe with Romney was Pawlenty, who just a day before pointed out that President Barack Obama linked Romney’s healthcare reforms with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that is the president’s signature piece of legislation.
On Fox News Sunday, Pawlenty called the reforms “Obamneycare.” But he refused to use that label again Monday. Schoen said Pawlenty had two very good weeks leading up to the debate, but may well have been hurt Monday by what he called a “tepid performance.”
“It suggested to me that he may have been running for president on Sunday, and decided on Monday night that he was preserving his options to be a vice presidential candidate on a Romney ticket,” Schoen said. “No other way to explain it, because given the similarities between Romneycare and Obamacare, it’s hard to understand why the self-described ‘truth teller’ didn’t continue to offer a consistent message.”
Schoen added that despite a solid debate performance former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has a way to go to reconnect with GOP voters, following a rough start to his campaign.
“His support has dropped precipitously in the last month or month and a half as he’s lost his staff and as he criticized the Ryan plan,” Schoen said. “I don’t think he did himself any additional harm, but I’m not sure he turned around what is an increasingly dire situation.”
Other highlights from the exclusive Newsmax interview with Schoen:
• In the past Mitt Romney
has been “out of synch” with the GOP base. “And it remains to be seen whether he can continue to avoid the kind of scrutiny that I think many expected him to get last night, but just didn’t happen,” he said.
• He was disappointed that former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain
, considered the winner of the first debate in South Carolina, turned in an uneven performance. “I had thought that this was Herman Cain’s opportunity to bat a thousand and go two for two,” said Schoen.
“Regrettably for him, I don’t think he achieved that goal. I think Herman Cain may well have been the loser in the debate, and lost at the expense of Michele Bachmann.
• Republicans would probably do well to avoid suggesting that Muslims, or any other ethnic group, need special scrutiny.
“It’s one thing to subject people to reasonable levels of scrutiny across the board, that’s the American way,” he said. “But to decide on the basis of religion or national origin that people deserve extra scrutiny, that’s not quite American. And I think the candidates were struggling on how to get that right. It’s still a work in progress.”
• He’s growing skeptical libertarian-leaning Republican Rep. Ron Paul
of Texas can broaden his base of support: “He’s always had 10 percent. He sort of had it last time, he’s got it this time. It’s a militant, activated 10 percent. But I’m hard pressed to see how his pure libertarian message can in any way be broadened -- could happen, but I think increasingly unlikely.”
• The only path to the White House he sees for former GOP Sen. Rick Santorum
is if social issues take center stage in the primary. “If for some reason abortion and gay marriage become the top issue to primary voting Republicans maybe Rick Santorum can win” Schoen said. “But in the absence of that, and I think with the economy in as bad shape as it is, that’s unlikely as well. I don’t see Rick Santorum doing anything more than being a candidate for a position in the next administration, or perhaps an ambassadorship.”
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