Right after wrapping up the CNN/YouTube Republican debate last night, Anderson Cooper proudly told viewers that CNN’s post-game analysis was "not going to focus on the horse race. Instead, tonight, we’re looking at the issues."
It was this relentless focus on the issues that produced comments like these from CNN’s panelists:
John King, CNN correspondent: "Another big question, Anderson, we have been waiting and watching over the months of this campaign for the first attack ad, watching TV in Iowa, watching TV in New Hampshire. Well, the first attack ad came tonight."
David Gergen, former White House adviser: "Well, on style, I think that the most presidential tonight were John McCain, who has found his voice again…But the candidate I think that the spotlight was shining on tonight and who really emerged as the most authentic and human was Mike Huckabee. Huckabee continually responded to questions with a — with a compassionate, sort of human quality that I think will appeal to a lot of people in their homes."
Jamal Simmons, Democratic strategist: "I thought Mike Huckabee was good. I mean, he’s one of these candidates that really has jumped off the page and impressed everyone up and down the field. And you see that reflected in the numbers right now…And, at the same time, you take a look at Romney, you know, his — his hair never fell, but his voice faltered. He — you know, on issues like abortion, gays in the military, he just seemed like, if you — if you had style points, he just was not a commanding presence, I thought, tonight at all."
One other observation. CNN favorite Bill Bennett observed that Mitt Romney had performed as if he were "all in — as you would say in Texas Hold’em." That’s a reference you’d think Mr. Bennett might want to stay away from.