There was more action than Saturday night’s debate, but the GOP presidential candidates still failed to do much to damage Mitt Romney’s status as the frontrunner on Sunday.
“It was a much more lively debate on the issues that mean something to most voters, unlike last night,” said Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political scientist. “But it’s another day that shows Romney’s grown as a candidate. He gives as good as he gets. They threw a bunch of different things at him. Romney’s just very controlled, in charge, he looks at ease up there. That’s been true all year, and it’s served him well. He’s just been steady, and steady’s been good.”
“Romney again was strong, on message,” said former Congressional candidate and We The People founder Jennifer Horn of Nashua. “He proved today he can answer social questions as well as fiscal questions.”
Stephen Poschmann of Bedford said there were "a few attempts to bloody Romney," but they were unsuccessful.
"Romney unscathed," proclaimed former state Rep. Fran Wendelboe, R-New Hampton. "Newt (Gingrich) had his moments, and Ron Paul was as cranky as ever."
“Unfortunately for the New Hampshire Primary – because we like contests here – this hasn’t been much of a contest,” said Pat Griffin, a senior fellow with Saint Anselm College’s Institute for Politics. “Mitt Romney did what he had to do this week – look presidential, withstand attacks. No runs, no hits, no errors. The other guys all had something to do, and I’m not sure anyone did a whole lot.
Conservative blogger William Smith of Merrimack said "this debate was so bad there were absolutely no winners."
Former state Rep. Jim Splaine, D-Portsmouth, said Romney "continued to show that he's the Republican to beat, but he was a bit injured." He said he was surprised by the intensity of the back-and-forth between Romney and Gingrich late in the debate about Bain Capital.
"That could have legs, if not on Tuesday since the voting begins in just a few hours, certainly by the time South Carolina votes 11 days later," he said.
Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum and Gingrich all had strong performances, according to local political observers, but none of them did enough to really hurt Romney.
“It was a better day for Santorum and Gingrich,” Scala said. “And Huntsman had another strong debate – back-to-back kind of good days for Huntsman. I’m curious to see whether Republicans out there were listening. In the polling, there seem to be a decent number of undecided, more moderate voters. If they tuned in today, it might give him a little boost.”
“Huntsman had some moments today which weren’t bad,” added Griffin.
Dean Spiliotes, a political scientist with Southern New Hampshire University, said Santorum had a good week, but he doesn’t think it will matter much in New Hampshire.
Horn said Santorum was strong and on message, and she thinks he could be headed for a top three finish on Tuesday.
"Huntsman probably wins because he garnered air time," said John F.J. Sullivan, editor-in-chief of the Live Free or Die Alliance. "But he's done for 2012 after Tuesday." Sullivan also said Gingrich "seems to be reversing his downward slide," with his debate performances on Saturday and Sunday.
Splaine said he thought Perry had his best debate, "going from an F to F-plus."