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Tea Party Debate: Winners and Losers

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum

The Good: Santorum found his voice and connected with the Tea Party crowd. He referenced his record as a former senator much more in this debate. He expounded upon a health care plan, which he said needed to use private sector insurance. "I think we have to keep a prescription drug component [for Medicare] but we have to pay for it," Santorum said. He got a good dig in on the president when he said that Obama's policies were so bad that an improvement would only then elevate his presidency to a disaster.

The Bad: Santorum still offered very few plans. He gave a few talking points on each subject, but there was no real detail to enrich the discussion. Like Newt Gingrich, Santorum has been out of politics for a few years, and it doesn't bode well for a man who wants to attain the highest political office in the country.

Grade:C- He brought a sense of presence and preparedness that we did not see in last week's debate. If he begins to offer plans instead of a few ideas, he could gain more support.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.)

Bachmann managed to elevate her relatively quiet debate performance from last week and channel the voice that originally made her popular among voters. She candidly criticized opponents, offered popular rhetoric and made controversial statements. Yep, sounds like the Bachmann of old.

The Good: Bachmann seemed subdued in last week's debate, but on Monday night she injected herself into the middle of many heated exchanges. The Minnesota congresswoman relentlessly attacked Perry on an executive mandate he attempted to pass in the state that would have required young women to receive inoculation for HPV. She substantiated her critiques with a claim that Perry's chief of staff stood to benefit from the mandate as he was a leading lobbyist for the drug company Merck (MRK), which would offer the vaccinations. Perry denied the claim.

The Bad: When the topic of immigration arose, Bachmann went on a mini-tirade in which she said that for immigrants to stay in the United States they would have to speak English and study American history and the U.S. Constitution. As a preface to the statement, Bachmann said that the American way was not to give taxpayer benefits to people who have broken U.S. laws. Her response echoed the sentiments that many Americans share, but it was intellectually lazy to lump the nation's illegal alien troubles with the country's requirements for aspirant citizens.

Bachmann also said that as president she would not reappoint Bernanke. Bachmann stuck by her Tea Party principles on this one, but the congresswoman doesn't seem to recognize that Bernanke doesn't act alone and that the Fed makes collective decisions. Even Perry, who bashed Bernanke last month , didn't go so far as to say he'd cut the chairman.
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