These were the best debates, so far. Charles Gibson did a good job moderating the debate, and the format was much more of a "debate" and less of a "question and answer" session. Kudos to ABC, and the "unity" moment of having all the candidates from both parties greet each other onstage between debates was a nice touch.
Diane Sawyer, though, really seemed out of place in the whole scheme of things. Anyway, on to my thoughts.
On the GOP side...
- Fred Thompson had an excellent debate, and even George Stephanopoulos said so in his post-debate comments. He put Romney on the spot without attacking him (and forced Romney, on one occasion, to completely waffle on a question), handled Ron Paul like nobody else has done, and had a generally good overall performance. He seemed very comfortable in this debate, was on-point with his policies, and answered questions directly. Also, I noticed that more candidates said "Yes, Senator Thompson is right..." and would go on to repeat Fred's words. That's because Fred is correct.
- Mitt Romney was attacked by everyone on stage in some way, shape, or form. I must say that Romney handled most of the criticism well, considering the bombardment of attacks from many sides, especially from John McCain. McCain, while having some good quips, seemed more intent on spitting out a "zinger", then flashing a silly grin right before they cut away from him. His performance was a bit forced, in my opinion.
- Huckabee was almost non-existant for long stretches, playing the "let them knock each other out" card. Good job by Charles Gibson not to allow that to go on forever. Giuliani had a relatively strong performance. He made his stances fairly clear, pointed to his record of law enforcement and economic turnaround in New York City, and deflecting criticism for being more liberal in his policies in the past.
- Ron Paul did a good job espousing his views, but also took more heat than normal, probably because he's a more serious threat than most of the other candidates realized. He got burned by Fred on the "money-printing/Iraq War/health care" tie-in that Paul stretched to make.
On the Dem side...
- All 4 candidates had relatively decent nights, nobody had a "bad" night. However, if anyone should come out of this looking better than before, it's Bill Richardson. He was on a much more level playing field in terms of speaking time, and made good use of it. Richardson will probably give Hillary more problems than Obama and Edwards, and Richardson appeals to the "experience" base of the Democratic Party.
- Obama is really pushing for the Independent/Republican cross-over vote. He made a point to address them as necessary to create a majority consensus for his policies. Unless someone like Huckabee gets nominated, I don't see many Republicans crossing over.
- As usual, more "anti-Republican" sentiments from the Dems than "anti-Democrat" sentiments from the GOP. In fact, the only time the GOP addressed the Dems was when they were asked to compare themselves to Barack Obama. The Dem candidates had a habit of bringing up "those horrible Republicans" when they needed a rallying point...instead of rallying around what they stand for.
- Hillary had a stronger debate than the previous few debates she took part in. However, Obama was solid and Edwards also had a stronger-than-normal debate. None of which helps her in the long run.