GOFFSTOWN, N.H. -- Six Republican candidates. One million dollars. No tears. The live thread begins now. I ended up talking to the BBC's brilliant John Sweeney before the debate, and he suctioned out all of my early analysis, but it went like this.
- Gingrich, who is only really in command at debates, will be tempted to tear Mitt Romney's hair out. Since we're all expecting it, it would be quite impressive if Gingrich simmered down and returned to his "Obama and the media re my enemies" mode.
- No one in the audience has paid much attention to Rick Santorum up to now; this will be the average New Hampshire voter's first, best chance to decide if Santorum is serious, or some one-note Huckabee-esque zealot.
- It used to be that Michele Bachmann could adroitly, with no "uhs" or "you knows," would attack whoever stood between her and Mitt Romney. She's not here. It's up to Perry and Paul to bring down Rick Santorum. Do you think either of them is a terribly comfortable hitman? No, no, they're not.
9:03: Romney's response to the first good economic report since the iPhone 3G was new is that Barack Obama can't take credit for it. "It's like the rooster taking responsibility for the sunrise." A bit hard to imagine that playing for months if the economy actually recovers.
9:08: Well, Gingrich isn't taking my contrarian advice. Lucky for him, the difference between "angry Gingrich" and "joyful Gingrich" is a slightly altered head angle. "I'm not surprised to see the New York Times put the free market on trial."
9:12: No, no, Paul's not terribly comfortable attacking.
9:19: I take it back! I've never seen Paul that aggressive, sticking to careful, simple attacks on old Santorum votes. What did Santorum say in response?
I believe in some government. I do believe that government has -- that as a senator from Pennsylvania that I had a responsibility to go out there and represent the interests of my state. And that's what I did to make sure that Pennsylvania was able, in formulas and other things, to get its fair share of money back. I don't apologize for that any more than you did when you earmarked things and did things when you were a congressman in Texas.
He took several chances to run down his bio and his record. Paul's immediate goal is to come second in New Hampshire; Santorum's is to introduce himself to conservatives. Both did fairly well.
9:26: Awfully nice of WMUR's moderator to remind everyone that Paul, Perry, and no one else served in the military.
9:33: About that "chickenhawk" exchange. In 17 debates or forums, it was the angriest I've ever seen Gingrich get. On emotional points, it was unfair, and maybe unwinnable. How it ended:
PAUL: I need one quick follow-up. When I was drafting, I was married and had two kids, and I went.
GINGRICH: I wasn't eligible for the draft. I wasn't eligible for the draft.
9:41: The point of the contraception discussion must have been to draw out this statement from Romney: "I believe the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade? Yes, I do." So, well done. Here's how it went.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney, do you believe that states have the right to ban contraception? Or is that trumped by a constitutional right to privacy?
ROMNEY: George, this is an unusual topic that you're raising. States have a right to ban contraception? I can't imagine a state banning contraception. I can't imagine the circumstances where a state would want to do so, and if I were a governor of a state or...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the Supreme Court...
ROMNEY: ... or a -- or a legislature of a state -- I would totally and completely oppose any effort to ban contraception. So you're asking -- given the fact that there's no state that wants to do so, and I don't know of any candidate that wants to do so, you're asking could it constitutionally be done? We can ask our constitutionalist here.
SANTORUM: I'm sure Congressman Paul...
ROMNEY: OK, come on -- come on back...
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... asking you, do you believe that states have that right or not?
ROMNEY: George, I -- I don't know whether a state has a right to ban contraception. No state wants to. I mean, the idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do that no -- no state wants to do and asking me whether they could do it or not is kind of a silly thing, I think.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hold on a second. Governor, you went to Harvard Law School. You know very well this is based on...
ROMNEY: Has the Supreme Court -- has the Supreme Court decided that states do not have the right to provide contraception? I...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, they have. In 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut.
9:48: I think we're losing the thread. Basically, should gay chickenhawks be able use contraception if they write racist newsletters?
9:52: Here's how Santorum agreed that current gay marriages would, ideally, end after a ban on gay marriage.
If we have a -- if the Constitution says marriage is between a man and a woman, then marriage is between a man and a woman. And -- and, therefore, that's what marriage is and -- and would be in this country. And those who are not men and women who are married are -- would not be married. That's what the Constitution would say.
In 2008, 40 percent of New Hampshire Republicans said they supported legal civil unions. I wonder what the number will be on Tuesday.
9:56: Did Perry just say he'd send troops back to Iraq?
10:23: A catch-up on the local issue high-fives (I won't say "panders") so far -- Gingrich supporting the less-destructive burial of the northern passage energy plan, Perry supporting the stalled-out right to work law. New Hampshire's unemployment rate is actually three points lower than the national average, despite the unions and their job-throttling and/or -crushing ways.