The post-debate punditry continues apace, and if there's any consensus so far, it's that John McCain might have righted the ship on his campaign with a strong performance, and that Mitt Romney took some shots as the front-runner in the early voting states.
The Republican presidential debate Wednesday night at the University of New Hampshire, which went slightly over its allotted 90 minutes on FOX News Channel, was the first of the post-Labor Day fall rush and was the feistiest of the campaign so far.
A focus group of New Hampshire Republicans hosted by pollster Frank Luntz for FOX gave high marks to McCain, whose campaign had been floundering, but used his foreign policy credentials and his Vietnam War hero bona fides to his advantage.
"A single strong debate performance can't, by itself, resurrect a candidacy," writes Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard, a prominent opinion-setter among conservative Republicans. "But it can help by guaranteeing McCain more press coverage -- and more respectful treatment, at that -- and perhaps a bump in the polls that come out almost daily."
The McCain camp is certainly trying to foster that impression. "This evening, John McCain demonstrated why he is the only candidate with the proven national security experience vital to confronting the transcendent challenge facing our nation -- the struggle against radical Islamic extremism," said Rick Davis, his campaign manager, said in a post-debate statement. "McCain has demonstrated leadership and political courage by advocating an Iraq policy that would bring our troops home with honor -- by winning."
McCain also lectured Romney on not waiting until the top US commander in Iraq reports to Congress next week to declare that the so-called surge of American troops is working.
Romney, who is leading in the polls in New Hampshire and in Iowa, also sparred with national front-runner Rudy Giuliani over illegal immigration -- specifically over how much New York welcomed them while Giuliani was mayor.
While Romney appeared to score some points, on the First Read blog, the NBC News political team said that Romney was on the defensive all night and needs to figure out a way to turn attacks from other candidates into a positive.