Cain Was Able at the GOP's First Debate

Herman Cain scored, Tim Pawlenty held, Mitt Romney was AWOL and Ron Paul was Ron Paul.

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On a day when President Barack Obama sucked the oxygen out of the news cycle with his visit to New York's Ground Zero, when marquee names like Michele Bachmann, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney were no-shows, and even the Associated Press was boycotting over lack of access for its photographers, the first 2012 GOP presidential primary debate -- hosted by the South Carolina Republican Party -- managed to achieve liftoff as planned.

Described by the Daily Beast's Mark Latimer as a "whatever-the-opposite-of-thriller-is," the event was clearly lacking star power. But while former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty wound up being the only "mainstream" candidate on the stage, the debate set the table for the coming political season -- making clear that Republicans will be going after Obama on any and all issues, including foreign policy, even after this week's killing of Osama bin Laden. Herman Cain -- the only African American in the field -- summed it up, saying, "One good decision doth not a presidency make."

And yes, he did say "doth."

Cain mostly served up predictable talking points. But unlike the meandering Ron Paul, Cain's a seasoned talk radio host, and he connected with lines like "Government doesn't create jobs; business creates jobs." And Republicans liked what they heard.

Just minutes after the debate ended, an on-air focus group run by Fox News pollster Frank Luntz declared, almost unanimously, that Cain, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO, was the debate's winner. Their reaction: "He's a problem solver. He gives the problem, he gives the solution, and that just seems to be a breath of fresh air for Washington."

Maybe.

Here's how the rest of the field stacked up ...

Rick Santorum

If you had to concoct the stereotypical Republican candidate in a science lab, you might come up with a guy like Rick Santorum. Known more for his conservative social views than for deficit-cutting Tea Party passion, the former Pennsylvania senator -- complete with a tight smile and Brylcreemed hair -- stood in for the old-school conservative faithful. He vowed to stop health care reform that "takes over people's lives," and won applause when he said that on issues like gay marriage and the right to choose -- he's against both -- "If we abandon that, we have given up on America." 

Gary Johnson

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