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Debate Scorecard

Ron Paul
AP
Ron Paul

My take on the results of the debate:

Fattest Pitch Down the Center of the Plate: Ron Paul's comment about the absence of "imminent" threats against the U.S. -- which Rudy Giuliani knocked over the fence by asking where Paul was on 9/11.

Best Candidate-baiting: Mitt Romney achieved what every lagging candidate wants: a one-on-one fistfight with the front-runner. By attacking Giuliani on taxes and spending, he induced "Hizzoner" to attack him back, and held his own with a "baloney" counterpunch.

Slowest on the Draw: Newcomer Fred Thompson, in his first debate, endured a painful hesitation in response to Maria Bartiromo's opening question about the economy. It was emblematic of his campaign's challenge in meeting high expectations.

Best Iron Fist in Velvet Glove: Thompson picked up the pace later in the debate, most effectively when Romney told an obviously rehearsed joke likening Thompson role in the campaign to his role on the TV show "Law and Order." When Thompson smiled and lamented that he thought he was going to be the best actor on the stage, he jabbed at Romney's reputation for calculated posturing.

Funniest Man: Once again, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was the most fluid and humorous communicator. He worked in references to the "Jetsons," the "Flintstones," Gomer Pyle and Goober -- excellent stuff for Baby Boom voters.

Never Say Die: John McCain used the debate to underscore the reality that he's best at scrappy, truth-telling rhetoric. He did that memorably in slapping down the temptations of anti-trade populism, citing the Smoot Hawley Tariffs that preceded the Great Depression and saying that Republican protectionists would make Ronald Reagan spin in his grave.

Questions? Comments? Write to politicalcapital@cnbc.com.