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After back-to-back debates Saturday night and Sunday morning, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney got his hair mussed but the general consensus among debate watchers and pundits is that the former Massachussets governor was not hurt enough to stop his momentum.
University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato:
Romney was dinged in the second debate, but not seriously wounded. Basically, the candidates firmed up their own individual base but I don’t think they took much away from Romney either in terms of Republicans or independents.
Sabato’s assessment was echoed by a panel of New Hampshire voters assembled by Capitol Hill Blue. Romney supporters said they didn’t see anything in either debate to swing them away from their candidate while undecideds said they are now leaning in Romney’s direction.
“I wasn’t sure coming into the weekend,” said Melanie Akers. “Now I’m leaning towards Romney.”
But most of those who support Romney said their choice was driven more by the weakness of the other candidates than by Romney himself.
“It’s a weak field,” said Jonathan Haskins. “Romney seems the least weak.”
Such lackluster support appears to indicate that voters could be persuaded to change, given the right candidate, but don’t feel the right one has come along.
“What we are dealing with here is a bunch of dogs,” said Lowell Welch. “I’m doing with Romney. He’s the dog with the least fleas.”
Missing from the panel was any real passion for any of the candidates. Most expressed disappointment with Rick Santorum, fresh off his surge in Iowa, and support for Ron Paul, the candidate who usually has the most ardent fan base, appeared muted.
“Dr. Paul has some good ideas but he also has a lot of baggage,” said Lucille Moore, a former Paul supporter who now backs Romney.
Most polls show an easy win for Romney and with a new poll showing strength in South Carolina, Romney appears in the best shape of any candidate in the crowded GOP field. In New Hampshire, the only fight appears to be between Santorum and Paul for who will finish in a distant second place.