Simi Valley, CA – Former First Lady Nancy Reagan and The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library played host to eight GOP Presidential candidates Wednesday night in Simi Valley, California. It was Texas Governor Rick Perry’s first debate after announcing he would run for President and many Republican activists were eager to see how he would perform. The early debate centered on Mitt Romney and Rick Perry who jabbed at each other’s records as Governors. Perry, who leads in national polls, tried to criticize Romney for implementing Romneycare, the Massachusetts healthcare insurance reform law that many conservatives think is too similar to Obama’s healthcare reform initiative. But Romney forcefully defended his record and turned the conversation to jobs and his private sector experience to turn the economy around.
Perry went after Romney’s accomplishments on creating jobs. “He (Romney) had one of the lowest job creation rates in the country,” Perry said. “As a matter of fact, we created more jobs in the last three months in Texas than he created in four years in Massachusetts.” Romney quickly shot back noting that Texas has no state income tax, a Republican supreme court and a Republican legislature. “George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor,” Romney said.
While Rick Perry didn’t make any gaffes, he didn’t impressive the hundreds of Republican activists who came to watch either. Perry survived.
“I was really waiting for Perry,” said one long time Republican fundraiser who flew in from New York. “He came in very confident, kind of cocky, and finished deflated. I think he is realizing this is going to be a long and hard road to the nomination.”
Jon Huntsman, Jr. out-performed himself from the last debate and gave his campaign a much needed boost. Huntsman, whose previous debate performance was roundly criticized as weak, surprised many activists by displaying never before seen confidence. Huntsman easily spoke of economic issues and the American spirit and seemed comfortable this time. But Michelle Bachmann struggled to get noticed. Fresh off the announcement that campaign guru Ed Rollins would be stepping down from running the Bachmann campaign’s day to day operations, Bachmann surprised the crowd when she criticized President Obama for supporting NATO’s Libya mission.
“Bachmann started to sound more like Ron Paul,” one California Republican said. The question and answer on Libya was one of the only foreign policy questions and answers of the night.
NBC News, which co-hosted the debate with POLITICO, was roundly criticized by bloggers and pundits for the moment in the debate where they invited a Telemundo reporter onto the stage to ask a question about immigration. Mary Katherine Ham of the Daily Caller tweeted, “NBC: “Thank you, Anchor w Hispanic Surname. We are now finished with the immigration portion of this debate. You may leave.” And Matthew Hurt of Arlington, Virginia tweeted, “Connie Chung will be on later to ask a question about China. #reagandebate #subtleracism”
Newt Gingrich demonstrated why he was elected Speaker of the House in 1994 by uniting the Republican presidential candidates against a common enemy – President Obama. Gingrich also got the applause line of the night from those in the debate hall when he proclaimed that English should be the official language of the United States. Gingrich also went after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke saying, “I think he’s been the most inflationary, dangerous and power-centered chairman of the Fed in the history of the Fed.”
But at the end of the evening it was clear that the Republican nomination for President is between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. Unless someone else enters the race.