The Republicans Pause for Tea
If, as suggested previously, the Republican presidential race in Florida is shaping up to be a contest between John McCain and Mitt Romney, then nothing that occurred at last night’s mellow debate in Boca Raton is likely to change that scenario. It may be that, in the wake of Monday’s tumultuous Democratic debate in South Carolina, the Republican candidates were hesitant to go that same route for fear of alienating Florida voters. It may also be that, with five days still left to campaign in Florida, the candidates are simply willing to let the contest develop a bit more organically on the retail stump, rather than force the issue, through a potentially jarring set of nationally-televised debate exchanges.
Regardless of the motivations for this underlying group dynamic, it made for a fairly sedate viewing experience.  John McCain continued his attempt at détente with the establishment conservatives who have attacked him mercilessly in recent weeks, and who seem to be slowly coalescing around Mitt Romney as the favored alternative. Romney, in turn, helped his own cause with a strong performance on the new dominant campaign issue, the economy. Either for strategic reasons, or perhaps through inertia, the incredibly high stakes did not motivate Rudy Giuliani beyond his typically solid debate performance. At a minimum, it was clear last night that he is no longer the central focus of these forums, in the way that he once was. We will know in about 10 days, whether Giuliani’s January 29th/February 5th scheduling gamble was the smart bet.

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