Who won the debate? What others are saying.

There is a general consensus that Mitt Romney won last night’s debate.  And not just from the left.  Interesting and quite unexpected.

Erick Erickson:  RedState

I think Mitt Romney did not just win the New Hampshire debate by holding his own, but legitimately won it with his answers and composure. He was unnecessarily defensive on the Afghan question, but largely showed his experience with Presidential debates.

Rich Lowry:  National Review Online

Mitt’s Night.  Romney was on his game — smooth, relaxed, and unflappable. He did well in the debates in 2008, but benefited tonight from his increased stature in the context of the rest of field.

Charles Babington:  Associated Press

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who leads in the early polls and fundraising efforts, had a surprisingly easy two hours Monday night. He looked calm and steady, criticizing President Barack Obama on the economy and health care while rarely being forced on the defensive despite some well-known vulnerabilities of his own.

Guy Benson:  Town Hall

Romney – Tonight’s winner, in my book.  He looked and sounded like he deserves the front-runner label.  Poised and informed. He breezed through the Romneycare non-gauntlet virtually unscathed, which is a shame.  If the rest of the pack wants to dislodge him from front-runner status, they’re going to have to aggressively challenge him on this issue.  The former Governor appeared to be in full command, and even had the awareness to sneak in the Bruins score (good news for the crowd), a savvy move in front of a New England audience.

Carol Platt Liebau:  Town Hall

One of the big questions going into tonight’s debate was whether Mitt Romney would credibly be able to claim “frontrunner” status — and handle the presumptive attacks that would be coming at him from the other candidates.  Clearly, he answered both questions in the affirmative, with a strong performance.  That — coupled with the fact that though other candidates performed strongly, none “blew away” debate observers — was probably enough to give Romney a de facto win.

Emily Goodin:  Ballot Box, The Hill’s Blog

Rep. Michel Bachmann (R-Minn) stole the early spotlight in Monday’s Republican presidential debate, but it was front-runner Mitt Romney who escaped the evening unscathed.  Bachmann grabbed headlines early in the evening by saying she had filed the paperwork to run for the 2012 GOP nomination.  But it was the former governor of Massachusetts, who leads in polling of the GOP field, who came out on top by the end of the evening–mainly for what wasn’t said about him.

Toby Harnden:  The Telegraph

Bottom line: a big night for Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney came across as the assured frontrunner he wants to be and Tim Pawlenty appeared to lack the courage to push home an attack on Romney. . . . Mitt Romney was fluent and relaxed throughout. He made a slip when he talked about handing over Afghanistan to the “Taliban military” but that didn’t seem to matter. Romney’s focus appeared to be on the general election against Obama and he rose above the fray as a front runner should. His candidacy still has significant challenges to overcome but his aides clearly felt good about the night.

Stewart J. Lawrence:  The Guardian

So who won the debate? Two people did. One was clearly Romney, who managed to stare down Pawlenty. Apart from a strong statement on Americans in uniform, inspired by a questioner who was a veteran, Pawlenty by contrast looked every bit the wimp he’s been accused of being. If there was any hint of “fire in his belly”, then Monday’s group hug effectively extinguished it. And so Romney emerged as primus inter pares.

The other big winner was Michele Bachmann, who far exceeded everyone’s low expectations for her – and her showing may well have knocked Palin out of the race (assuming she’s still considering running).

Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire

There’s a reason Mitt Romney is the frontrunner: None of these candidates is nearly as experienced at these debates. No one landed a punch.