My assessment of the Vegas debate remains the same at the top of the ticket, Perry won by exceeding expectations.  There were some negatives to his performance, such as the issue of Romney’s lawn care company hiring illegals, which even if it was worth a mention hardly was the gotcha it was presented as.  But feisty and combatative is what people are looking for from Perry, and he finally delivered.  The question is, is it to late to change the first impression?

Cain was damaged not so much by the debate, but by the debate pointing out his policy weaknesses.  He needs to be able to defend 9-9-9 better than saying “go to my website.”  The problem when a candidate runs on a specific policy is that the candidate can rise or fall based on that policy.  Cain also hurt himself by stating in an interview prior to the debate that he would consider releasing all Gitmo detainees if an American solidier were taken hostage; he tried to walk it back during the debate but it didn’t work.  Cain continues to impress, but his weaknesses are beginning to show.  I share the question of many as to whether he is running for President or Vice President.

Romney survived but for the first time was rattled on Romneycare.  The more he defends it, the worse it seems.  I still think I was right back in February, Sorry Seems To Be Mitt’s Hardest Word.  Other than that, it’s still Romney versus the non-Romneys.

Santorum and Bachmann were fine, but they are done in terms of chances of winning the nomination. Ron Paul is Ron Paul.

But the rising star again seems to be Newt.  Steve Hayward at Power Line sees Newt emerging as the non-Romney challenger, a sentiment I expressed after an earlier debate, Newt rising?  While Newt is a throw-back to the past, it’s a past when we balanced the budget, reformed welfare, and for a moment in time, appeared really to be ending the era of big government.

Yes, I know, baggage, some of which was exposed last night such as a long-ago support of a federal health care mandate. And yes, Newt’s fundraising has left his campaign running on fumes.

But damn, is there anyone you would rather see on stage hammering Obama other than Newt?

Newt’s challenge of 7 three-hour debates with no moderator in Lincoln-Douglas fashion would be tremendous.  Obama would not take the challenge, of course, which itself would become a “what’s the doughboy boy afraid of” anti-Obama campaign theme.  But if by some miracle a free-wheeling debate about the past and future of the country were achieved, it would be lights out for Obama.

Newt still is the long-shot, but not as long a shot as before the recent rounds of debates started.

Update:  I had not seen this prior to my post, but Palin is sounding like a Newt fan, via Real Clear Politics:

“I think we (Republicans) are more interested in substance and that’s why like tonight Newt Gingrich again I think did the best because he seems to be above a lot of the bickering that goes on,” Sarah Palin told FOX News after tonight’s CNN debate in Las Vegas.

Everybody could learn from Newt Gingrich and the way his calm, cool, collected manner. He’s kind of seen it all before in this political game, if you will,” Palin said about Gingrich’s debate skills.

“Newt Gingrich would — he would clobber Barack Obama in any debate, any forum that had to do with substance when it comes to policy and solutions for the challenges that America faces. Newt Gingrich would clobber Barack Obama. I don’t know if he’s going to be the one that surfaces as the fortunate candidate who gets to face Barack Obama because unfortunately, in this day and age, sometimes conventional wisdom would dictate that he who has the most money, the campaign dollars, wins. I don’t want to believe that this is going to be the case this go-around,” Palin said about a debate between Gingrich and Obama.