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Republican presidential debate: Who won?

The general consensus among pundits is that Mitt Romney did well, while Rick Perry might have a problem with his insistence that Social Security is a 'Ponzi scheme.'

By Staff writer / September 8, 2011

Republican presidential candidates stand at the podium to answer questions during a debate at the Reagan Library Wednesday in Simi Valley, Calif.

Jae C. Hong/AP

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Republican presidential hopefuls had a lively debate last night at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney went at each other like heavyweights.

Ex-Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman provided a sort of Greek chorus, providing occasional comment on the foibles of human nature and the GOP race.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas played the purist, explaining once again why he’s against federal regulation of pretty much everything.

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania were also there, and had their moments, but seemed less central to the action, given that organizers NBC and Politico placed them on the wings of the crowd.

We’ll get right to the important horse race question: Who won?

Well, everyone had their moments, and often with stuff like this it isn’t apparent until weeks later what is resonating in voter minds. But the early read is that Mr. Romney did well for himself. Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post said Romney started slowly, but by the end was sounding “reasonable, and, dare we say it, presidential.” Erick Erickson at the conservative blog, RedState, said Romney made no major mistakes and was “the strongest of anybody on stage”.

Romney planted some obviously planned zingers on Governor Perry, such as the fact that job growth in Texas was greater when George W. Bush was governor than it has been under Perry. But as Mr. Erickson, pointed out, Romney has been running for president since 2007 – he ought to be good at debates by now.

What about Perry? At the beginning he sounded strong, sidestepping questions as to the quality of Texas jobs and the low percentage of Texas residents with health care to emphasize the state’s strong job growth and overall economic health.

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