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Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich emerged as clear winners of the latest Republican presidential debate Saturday night while Herman Cain and Rick Perry failed to impress, GOP and Democratic insiders say.
A poll of political operatives taken immediately after the debate by The National Journal gives the debate to Romney with Gingrich coming in a strong second.
Among Republican political operatives, Romney was the clear winner with half the vote, Gingrich finished second with 30 percent and Perry was a distant third with 13 percent.
Democratic political pros gave the debate to Gingrich (55 percent) with Romney second at 20 percent and Jon Huntsman third with 15 percent.
Herman Cain did not finish in the top five among either Republican or Democratic operatives. Republicans saw Cain as the biggest loser while Democrats ranked the Georgia businessman dogged by sexual harassment charges as the second-biggest failure behind Huntsman.
The National Journal poll tracks with Capitol Hill Blue’s own survey of political pros and Republican-leaning voters.
“Romney is in control at this point,” says one long-time Republican political consultant. “His challengers rise and fall with the political winds but he is the man to beat.”
A Democratic consultant agrees.
“This is now Romney’s race to lose,” he added.
GOP voters also gave the debate to Romney.
“He impressed me, there is no doubt about that,” says Republican voter Ben Grimes of New Orleans in an email to Capitol Hill Blue. “I like his style and he does not have the flaws of the other candidates.”
Stephanie Putney of Raleigh, North Carolina, says she started out the campaign as a Ron Paul supporter but says she is leaning towards Romney because “he can win the nomination and he has the best shot at beating Obama.”
“I wish he would adopt more of Dr. Paul’s positions but as much as I support Dr. Paul I realize that he cannot win the nomination and I have to go with someone who can,” Putney said.