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GOP Debate: Who Won, Who Lost

Thursday, 29 Nov 2007 | 2:41 PM ET

Here's a look at my results from last night's GOP YouTube/CNN debate:

Winner #1: former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. He displayed his trademark humor but also some grit, facing down Mitt Romney in defending his record on immigration. Huckabee is head and shoulders above the rest of the Republican field in communications skills, as he manages to convey a combination of conservative principles and common touch--evocative of what George W. Bush did best in 2000.

Winner #2: Arizona Sen. John McCain. McCain seized the opening provided by Ron Paul to defend his stance on the Iraq war at a time when developments on the ground there are moving in McCain's favor. In that exchange and in smacking Romney on torture, McCain looked like the strongest candidate on the stage.

Loser #1: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. "Matinee Mitt" sounded hollow in responding to Rudy Giuliani's "Sanctuary Mansion" attack. His attempts to hand out poll-perfect answers to a wide array of nomination-race constituencies--on immigration, taxes, the Bible, and spending (strongly in favor of tough spending cuts but strongly against cutting farm subsidies, to take one glaring example)--have some advisers fretting that they make him look weak. And he took a direct hit from Fred Thompson's ad replaying his unequivocal 1994 defense of abortion rights--a sign of attacks to come.

Loser #2: former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The distance between Giuliani's past rhetoric and current stance on immigration is simply too great to gracefully bridge. And he has developed a habit of responding to chinks in his conservative armor by responding: yeah, but the other candidates are lousy too. Fred Thompson hurt him on the issue of gun control.

Republican Debate Reaction
There were fireworks at last night's debate, reports CNBC's John Harwood

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