It was a discussion format (not a debate) with some local radio guy asking questions of each candidate in a random (they drew numbers) sequence. Strictly timed. Questions were half change-ups, a quarter sliders, twenty percent curves and five percent fastballs. No serious follow-up, but mostly that wasn't necessary.
The audience was not moved to cheers, but they had been asked to restrain themselves: Like good NH Republicans, they did. C-SPAN's shots of the audience showed serious faces engaged in quite a bit of head nodding. No reading of the atmosphere from that. There were a few empty seats, and I'd guess there were several hundred in attendance. Demographically, they looked like NH, not NYC.
In the following short summary, I'm talking about the performance in this 'cattle call;' not about records, positions expressed in other venues or past actions. Of course, I did bring expectations.
Overall, you have to have come away with a feeling that the GOP has an embarrassment of riches in their field of presidential hopefuls.
Rubio looked and sounded most presidential by a fair margin. Very good answers. Nailed the immigration issue, which is his Achille's heel, so he'd better. If Nixon lost to JFK because he didn't shave, Rubio 'won' because he looked as if he were already speaking from the Oval Office. That impression was probably reinforced by the fact he was on satellite and looking directly into the camera. (He, Paul and Cruz were on via satellite from DC due to the Planned Parenthood defunding vote. It occurred to me later; Why wasn't Graham?)
Walker and Fiorina were just good, not great. They tied Rubio for second in the 30 seconds of free time each candidate finished up with, but both blanded out during Q&A. Maybe it seemed that way because there were many others who said similar things.
Walker lost points on a question about whether
Maybe my familiarity with Fiorina's message raised my expectations and my impression suffered from not hearing it with fresh ears. She is a lot better when she's under some pressure and can press an attack by flipping the premise of 'gotcha' questions from the Democrats with bylines. No opportunities for that last night. It was a target free environment.
Carson's humility, humanity and character were front and center. His final 30 was probably the best, ahead of the 3 already mentioned. He criticized Obamacare not just for its oozing sores and suppurating heart, but as something antithetical to the Founders vision.
Lindsey Graham was surprisingly good, maybe the 'winner' overall. Turned everything into National Security/Military. Engaging, and had the best one liners (there were few), and I seriously doubt they could have been rehearsed. Just proves these things are more entertainment than substance.
Perry better than expected, but outclassed by the field. Ditto Paul and Jindal.
Cruz very good, but maybe too earnest. Not fake, just earnest. He's not selling you his used car, he's trying to save the country. To me, that was a credible message. For those worried he is 'radical' it would just confirm their bias.
Bush, Pataki, Christie, Kasich, Santorum - better than any Democrat, but that's saying not much. They all whiffed on change ups about "what the Government should do." One way or another, they just have a different Big Government in mind. None of them will get my vote.
Trump's name was never spoken.