An Iowan Take on New Hampshire Debate: Bachmann Wins

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - 09:22 AM

I was in New Hampshire last night for first formal presidential debate and had a chance to talk to many folks the days before the event and afterwards as well.

I found New Hampshire citizens not very engaged for this event. The talk at cafes and among people I know was about the bad weather (overcast and drizzly) and growing traffic as folks from Massachusetts move into the Granite State to escape high taxes. (I myself got stuck in a traffic jamb myself on Route 93 coming north from doing some interviews in Rhode Island that evening!)

Former Gov. Mitt Romney set the tone for the evening asking, “Why isn't the president leading? He isn't leading on balancing our budget, and he isn't leading on jobs. He's failed the American people both in job creation and the scale of government." This  overall theme stuck for the rest of the evening: get rid of Obama and his policies.

But the night’s real stand-out was Michelle Bachmann, who took advantage of the debate spotlight to announce she is running for president. She clearly and surprisingly won the debate. Nate Silver wrote in the New York Times, “she performed strongly throughout, exuding confidence, and turning her service in the House of Representatives from a potential liability (in a field that also includes governors and senators) into a strength (by emphasizing her active role in formulating policy on the major issues of the day).” Bachmann was energetic and has a way with words, making some of the other wannabes look limp. Her experience in Congress showed and made her more credible than her critics might want to admit, and complicates things for Sarah Palin.

Herman Cain gave a good show but we only remember a few moments from any candidate’s performance and as Chris Cillizza wrote in the Washington Post, “Cain’s answer on whether he would have a Muslim in his Cabinet was confusing at best and offensive at worst and will be, without question, the memorable moment of the debate for him. And that’s not a good memory.”

Newt Gingrich was the orphan of the debate, largely irrelevant and all we could think of was whether his wife Callista approved and what his 16 departed campaign staffers were saying.

Mitt Romney is polished and that showed. He looked and sounded presidential, focused on the economy and on attacking President Obama. He was clearly one of two winners. As Time's Adam Sorensen characterized it, “Romney’s Monday night victory, then, was one by default. He entered the debate as the front-runner and left in the same position.” I agree. He remains the top dog in the GOP race to the White House.

Ron Paul was, well, Ron Paul. He is interesting but quirky and we know the themes of his libertarian Republicanism by heart so I doubt that he gained much support.

Tim Pawlenty failed to prove that he could pass the test of fire in a national debate. He was not sharp and incisive and he didn’t have the guts to launch at Mitt Romney’s health care program in Massachusetts which he has called “Obamneycare” and which would have proven that he has cojones (as a New Hampshire friend of mine said).

Rick Santorum was not mentioned by any of the analysts I read during or after the I won’t mention him here either! He and Newt seemed to be the marginal candidates.

I agree with Nate Silver who wrote, “The debate serves mostly to influence elite opinion—including partisan strategists, the news media, local party leaders, major donors and bundlers and the candidates and their staffs. Much less so ordinary voters, who are not yet tuning in.”

But even with that specialized audience, I don't understand why these seven candidates made the debate into largely a GOP lovefest because soon they will need to draw blood from each other. Maybe that will be left up to a future Iowa debate to accomplish!

And Republicans still need to decide if they’ve got a viable field of candidates or whether there is some knight in shining armor still out there who can ride in and slay Obama. Maybe Rick Perry of Texas or Chris Christie of New Jersey or someone who hasn’t even been mentioned—I say Jeb Bush—would be superior to the field now deploying across Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and the rest of the nation.

Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University, blogs for the Des Moines Register, and is chief political correspondent for


More in:

Comments [5]

Most polls showed Ron Paul won the debate.

Aug. 04 2011 08:33 PM

A winner? I think it was no one. None of the candidates, not the Republican party, not the Democrats or their party, not Obama, and definitely not the American people.
What we have here is more leading losers.
A debate on who wold make the best Republican candidate. So one of them would make the best candidate to defeat Obama because everything he is doing is wrong. It's a Republican primary debate, of course everything Obama is doing is wrong. So now that we have gotten to the "1+1=2" political competency test, why don't the candidates tell us what policies and programs of theirs will address national problems, not why they would do better. Present something real, something with vision, direction, a course of action, a real plan. Something that anyone could pick up and implement without them.
If someone could do that, then there's are real contender.

Jun. 14 2011 10:30 PM

John Jersey is incorrect when you take the combined corporate tax rate with all factors considered it explains why corp America has moved outside the US

•24 U.S. states have a combined corporate tax rate higher than top-ranked Japan.
•32 states have a combined corporate tax rate higher than third-ranked Germany.
•46 states have a combined corporate tax rate higher than fourth-ranked Canada.
•All 50 states have a combined corporate tax rate higher than fifth-ranked France.

Jun. 14 2011 05:51 PM
MN Teacher from Minnesota

I am a Minnesotan born and raised. Every time Michelle wins the election for her district, the rest of us are generally scratching our heads and asking "WHY?" She is an attention grabber...and it doesn't matter if it is good attention or bad. Remember the news footage of her pushing past everyone to hug former Pres. GW after his State of the Union? Or perhaps her totally butchering American history at an event recently? This woman is nothing more than Sarah Palin dumbed down...and that isn't saying much, is it?

Jun. 14 2011 02:46 PM
JohnnJersey from NJ

But Bachman continued to lie. She said we have one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. Everyone knows this is misleads as it panders to the Right because when you factor in all the tax breaks, loopholes, exemptions etc, corporations pay far less in taxes here than the rest of the world. That is why we are falling behind in the world.

Jun. 14 2011 11:01 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


About It's A Free Blog

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a blog, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Supported by

WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public.  Learn more at



Supported by