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Rubio, Cruz, Strike It Big in Debate

Rubio, Cruz, Strike It Big in Debate

By Thursday, 29 October 2015 07:51 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Marco Rubio was the big winner Wednesday night in the third debate of Republican presidential hopefuls, according to a group of neutral observers who spoke to me shortly after the nationally-televised forum ended.

The same group — pundits, academics, and Republican political consultants—also concluded that Ted Cruz made significant strides with his debate performance. Almost the entire panel felt that Jeb Bush, who badly needed to jump-start his troubled campaign, clearly fell short of meeting the hopes of his supporters.

“There were strong performances in Boulder from Rubio and Cruz,” said G. Terry Madonna, a Franklin and Marshall University (Pennsylvania) professor who is considered the premier pollster in the Keystone State.

Florida’s Sen. Rubio, Madonna felt, “particularly handled the attacks from Jeb Bush well. He’s in double-digits in several polls and, with [Wisconsin Gov. Scott] Walker out of the race, Rubio may soon emerge as the ‘Republican establishment’ favorite. And Bush will still be stuck in the middle of the pack.”

Madonna also voiced a feeling echoed by several other panelists about the Republican who is usually discussed most of all following a debate. Donald Trump, Madonna told me, “was less provocative and not as visible as in past debates.”

He added that Dr. Ben Carson was “a nonfactor” and wondered, wryly, whether Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul “was missing from the debate.”

Almost precisely seconding Madonna’s view, Republican consultant Ford O’Connell concluded “Rubio had the best all-around performance. He pushed back Jeb Bush’s attempts to paint him as the GOP's version of Obama. If Rubio continues on this path he could become the insider's choice for the nomination and possibly the party's nominee.”

But O’Connell also hailed Cruz for his firm handling of the CNBC moderators and “his entitlement explanation, which showed that he is a realistic alternative to Trump and Carson for conservative insurgents.”

“Trump and Carson had sleepy nights,” O’Connell told me, “but neither went backward with respect to the polls. Remember, Trump didn't have to beat Rubio tonight, he just had to do better than Carson. And I think he did, but Carson's likability should not be discounted.

The biggest losers, he added, “were Paul, Carly Fiorina and CNBC's moderators.”

Matt Lewis, a contributor to the “Daily Caller” and author of the forthcoming book “Too Dumb to Fail,” told me without hesitation: “Marco Rubio was the clear winner and his smackdown of Jeb Bush was the moment of the night. Ted Cruz came in a distant second. Jeb Bush was the big loser.”

“Bush needed an excellent night and he didn’t get one,” said Kathie Obradovich, political reporter for the Des Moines Register. “Sen. Rubio was on the rise in Iowa before this debate, and his performance should help him keep that momentum going. Rubio’s gain is most likely Bush’s loss in Iowa.”

Obradovich also noted that that “Sen. Cruz also had a strong debate and is the conservative candidate who stands to gain the most in Iowa if Donald Trump and Ben Carson stumble.

“Trump and Carson were on my list of debate losers, along with Jeb Bush. Trump was caught directly fibbing about whether he had criticized Mark Zuckerberg on immigration. Carson had some strong moments later in the debate but was only partially successful at defending his tax plan. He also apparently flip-flopped on an ethanol issue that is important to Iowans.”

“The two best performances tonight were from Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio,” said Jon Fleischmann, editor of the online Flash Report on California politics. “The former’s best moment was dressing down the biased CNBC moderators. The latter was pushing back on the attack from Jeb Bush.”

Fleischmann felt that Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Fiorina “were talking a lot but not connecting, but the biggest losers of the night were Jeb Bush and Rand Paul. Bush needed a big night, and he just simply fell flat. And Paul had little time, and it sounded like he was repeating what others said when he did get time.

“If all things were equal, Jeb Bush would soon be relegated to the 5 p.m. time slot,” observed historian David Pietrusza, author of four-best-selling books on presidential election years.

Pietrusza also told me he felt “Donald Trump seemed to fade into the woodwork. John Kasich promised — or rather threatened — a lot. He didn't deliver. Chris Christie was again wonderfully conversational in his approach and his ‘rude in New Jersey’ retort was pitch perfect.

“Ben Carson's Zen-like performance is always difficult to grade but he suffered no damage. Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee remained endangered species.”

The winners of the Boulder showdown, Pietrusza said “are Rubio, who counterpunched brilliantly against both MSNBC and Jeb Bush, and Cruz. He finally emerged from his rope-a-dope strategy to pummel not his opponents but the referees — and the crowd went wild. He was a big winner.”

The only panelist who didn’t deem Rubio the big winner was veteran North Carolina GOP consultant Marc Rotterman. He gave first prize to Cruz, and told me the Texan “won hands down. Cruz was focused, relaxed, and articulate. He had a Reagan moment when he put the CNBC moderator in short pants for the ‘gotcha’ questions.”

But Rotterman also said Rubio “also did well defending and then pivoting on missed Senate votes, and making the case for generational change.”

Like all of his fellow panelists, Rotterman felt Bush had a bad night. In his view, “Jeb failed to break through, did not get many questions and when he did, he talked about the past not the future.”

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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Marco Rubio was the big winner Wednesday night in the third debate of Republican presidential hopefuls, according to a group of neutral observers.
rubio, trump, cruz, debate
Thursday, 29 October 2015 07:51 AM
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