Endgame assessment: Newt stole the buzz with the opening smackdown of John King over the issue of his ex-wife. After that Santorum was very aggressive, going after both Romney and Newt time and again; people either will like it or hate it. After a while he became grating. Romney has a strong debate, except on the income tax return issue where he once again seemed ill prepared. Newt was okay in the debate after the initial smackdown, but not the standout mostly because Santorum was on attack all the time. Ron Paul was not much of a presence.

The closings were very telling.  Newt and Romney talked about the need to defeat Obama and how important it was to the country, Santorum talked about himself.

If Newt has momentum, I don’t think this will slow it down.  Romney and Paul will keep their support, the big question is whether Santorum can slow down the drift of not-Romney voters to Newt.

At the third break:

Immigration came up, and Newt came up with a formulation of not deporting grandmothers and grandfathers, and a host of other legal effects to dissuade hiring of illegals.   Newt got pretty loud applause.  Romney said they need to go back home, the applause was light.  Santorum went after Romney on changing positions.

Santorum was pretty much all attack all the time.  On immigration, abortion, etc.  Even hit Ron Paul on abortion rating of 50%.

At the second break:

Santorum went on the offenive again against Newt in very personal terms, “that worrisome moment” we can’t afford.  Newt hit back very effectively.  I’m curious what others think, because I’m not neutral.  I found Santorum offensive and not very likable.

On tax returns, Newt announced he just released his.  Romney said in April, but on question of why not now, Romney said he was afraid of how Democrats would use them.  Santorum said his are on his home computer?

Is it me, or is Santorum growing angrier with each minute?

At the first break:

CNN opens with question about Marianne — Newt hit it out of the park, in the ultimate debate smackdown.  He could not have asked for it to be brought up in a better way.  Romney, in a classy way, refused to pile on Newt.  Santorum took the opportunity to put in a few digs at Newt as did Ron Paul, but in indirect ways.

Romney handled the Bain issue better than before, giving a speech about capitalism.  Regardles of the topic Romney came back to the capitalism and free markets theme.

Santorum no much of a presence, but had a sour tone to him going after other candidates, particularly on the health care mandate.  To an extent he did Newt’s dirty work, but then turned on Newt as well.  Romney has a pretty vigorous defense, and sparred with Santorum.  Overall, it was a powerful moment for Santorum on balance.  Ron Paul actually helped Romney and Newt by pointing out Santorum has been big government.

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I’m going to give my assessments at the breaks and when it’s over.