BOSTON (CBS) – The New Hampshire primary is less than six months away, and Thursday night’s nationally televised debate involving eight of the Republican candidates for president, given the timing in the middle of major political and financial turmoil, was a significant moment in that race.

It was a moment that seemed perfect for the candidates to step up and take on what’s emerging as the major challenge in the GOP presidential race – establish yourself as the best alternative to fundraising and polling front-runner Mitt Romney.

Keep in mind, over the past half-century, the Republican party has established a pretty clear track record of choosing as their presidential nominee well-known establishment figures who have run before. Nixon in 1960 and ‘68; Reagan in ‘80; Bush (one) in ’88; Dole in ’96; McCain in 2008.

Listen to Jon’s commentary:

The candidate who fits that mold this time around is Romney, who has the money and organization to justify his front-runner status. There was no better time than Thursday night for one or more of his competitors to take him on directly.

But no one really did.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty gave him a light slap on the wrist for supporting universal health care, but didn’t follow up. The toughest challenges to Romney’s record came from the journalists on the panel. But when he offered up dubious spin in response, like his claim that he never raised taxes when we here in Massachusetts know that many state fees and fines were increased when he was governor, no one called him on it.

WBZ’s Jon Keller is at large:

And when Romney boxed himself into a glaring contradiction, claiming that it was wrong for the feds to dictate health care policy to the states but OK for them to dictate policy on gay marriage, nobody followed up on that, either.

If you believe, as I do, that campaigns are a test of the strategic and managerial skills of the candidates, then you’d have to say Romney’s challengers all flunked their exam Thursday night. They have got to draw favorable contrasts between him and themselves, emphatically and quickly, in forums where voters are watching.

Instead, today, Mitt Romney is laughing all the way to the bank.

Comments (4)
  1. tsal says:

    Jon, the entire debate was a joke. The candidates had a tremendous opportunity to get up in front of America and speak positively – to state their positions and outline their agendas. They instead spent the time attacking each other. I could give a fig about what they think another candidate did wrong because they are going to color everything they say about another person. I want to hear what they want to do. And the last thing I want to hear is what Obama is doing wrong without some – anything at all – proposals on how they would do it differently.

    As far as drawing favorable contrasts, that’s simple. State your policy. Sell your plan and yourself. Why don’t these morons understand that?

  2. jaygee says:

    What a collection of hypocrites. They all try to act so “christian” until another candidate throws a jab at them and then their true colors shine. Santorum spouts off about all the things he did but doesn’t mention that the voters dumped him for his ultra-right wing beliefs. Others are just too wimpy or too far off center. The one thing that never changes are the promises that are made and never fulfilled. The voters usually only have two choices and we try tp pick the lesser of two evils but the bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter. The people always lose regardless of who wins.

    1. tsal says:

      I’d agree that it doesn’t usually matter. This time I believe it truly does matter. If we elect a person who supports tax loopholes for the wealthy and for the large corporations, I believe that whatever we have seen in the past will be a picnic compared to what will be to come.

  3. skier7410 says:

    Jon, what is really interesting is who the frontrunner “actually” is depending on what media source you look at. Right now, I count three with Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Michele Bachmann. The best part is that Perry isn’t officially declared yet! Since they are third party opponents to each other, Palin will no doubt jump in the minute people get tired of hearing Bachmann’s “intelligent” responses to debate questions.

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