GOP Debate: The Winners and Losers

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Republican presidential hopefuls converged Wednesday for one of the first major debates in the primary season and each candidate has claimed victory. Since that's impossible, TheStreet created its own GOP Scorecard, picking the winners and losers.

GOP presidential hopefuls debated on Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Rep. Michele Bachmann

Bachmann's wave of popularity has waned since the Iowa straw poll -- which she won -- and the congresswoman certainly arrived with her same charisma. But she also delivered answers that sometimes avoided questions or sounded as if she misunderstood the questions.

The Good: Bachmann pounded on Obamacare and stuck to her promise to repeal it at all costs. She avoided questions at first about President Obama's choice to go into Libya, but when asked a second time she plainly said it was wrong for the president to go.

Maybe her best response was when asked about energy she focused on Environmental Protection Agency pressures on the coal industry. Bachmann said that pressures in the name of "green" standards would hurt the industry, which concerned her as she said coal provided some 45% of America's electricity.

The Bad: Bachmann sometimes totally avoided questions. She was asked how she would handle the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country in the event that the United States had already secured the border. Bachmann proceeded to spend most of her allotted time to say that she would secure the border with a fence and increased presence of law enforcement. Finally, the congresswoman said she would figure out a plan that wouldn't burden American taxpayers.

Bachmann also insisted she would get gas prices down below $2 a gallon, and sidestepped the fact that oil prices were determined by markets.

Grade: C- Bachmann reinforced her ideologies, but failed to clarify those stances any more than what she has said in the past.

Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain

Cain's campaign was rather quiet through the summer months. Though the former CEO focused his efforts on the Iowa straw poll, it failed to return significant results. At the debate on Wednesday, Cain seemed flat with his delivery and was swallowed by the chatter among the more recognized candidates.

The Good: Cain refused to step away from his 9-9-9 proposal that would instate a 9% federal sales tax, a 9% federal income tax and a 9% corporate tax. Though many people might disagree with this idea, Cain pushed forward and did not renege on his policy. Unlike the other candidates who hammered Obama on health care, Cain explicitly called out Romney when he said he was running against "Romneycare." He then said he wanted to allow association health plans, which he said wasn't unusual in a business.

The Bad: Cain's answers were brief and undeveloped. He rarely used all of his allotted time and the crowd in attendance was unresponsive to his answers. The former CEO suggested a "Chilean model" of social security that sounded an awful lot like former President George W. Bush's failed Social Security plan introduced in 2005.

Grade: D Maybe we're a bit harsh on this grade, but Cain needed to give viewers a memorable comment or plan to leap into the upper half of the GOP candidates. He didn't.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

Since he passed on the 2008 election, many considered Gingrich to be a serious contender with a strong record. But internal drama has plagued the former Speaker's campaign and has left him seemingly alone. Gingrich held his own on Wednesday as he showed viewers that he could still perform with the gusto of a House Speaker.

The Good: Gingrich criticized Obama as stubborn and clueless. When asked about homeland security, Gingrich said he would fix it, but he tiptoed around specifics and played to emotions when he quite sternly said there were "people out there who want to kill us," which he said was enough to elicit overhaul of the department. He said the country needed better capacity to respond to an event that could kill hundreds of thousands.

On immigration, he supported the idea of a legal guest worker program, but said that the government would need to be tough on the program's employers.

The Bad: Gingrich had a lot of good ideas, but had few tangibles to back up his rhetoric. The former congressman said he supported Obama for his "courage" to take on some teachers unions and promote charter schools, but didn't outline how he would make a complicated charter-school system work across all 50 states. He attacked the Federal Reserve saying it was "dangerous" and that it needed to be audited. He also attacked Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke for "antithetical" and "secretive" policies, but wasn't very clear on those policies.

Grade: B- Gingrich hasn't received much attention, but when he got to the national stage on Wednesday night he seemed polished and motivated. Gingrich was deliberate with his responses and elicited cheers from the crowd on multiple occasions.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Huntsman released a jobs and tax plan last week to distinguish himself from the frontrunners. Though he hasn't seen much of a kick in the polls, Huntsman has succeeded to appear as a sensible candidate.

The Good: Huntsman kept his cool and never wavered from his diplomatic and personable tone during the debate on Wednesday. When asked if Bachmann's promise to lower gas prices would work, Huntsman said that it wouldn't because Americans live in a free market economy. He added that it would not get the nation anywhere to dictate prices.

When asked about homeland security, the former U.S. ambassador to China said that the candidates had spent some 15 minutes "worrying about little issues" when millions were unemployed and millions more were so dispirited that they had quit looking for work. "We've gotta get back on our feet. This is a crisis situation," he said.

The Bad: On immigration, Huntsman said Vancouver was one of the fastest growing cities because it allowed more immigrants to freely enter the city. It seemed like well-meaning logic, but Vancouver is a Canadian city. And Canada doesn't face the same immigration difficulties as the United States.

Grade: B Huntsman is a candidate who has little to lose, and he looked composed on stage. He answered the questions directly and made jobs central to his debate. Most importantly, he got solid national airtime.

Rep. Ron Paul

Ron Paul needs no introduction. Though supporters have decried the media for its lack of coverage of the Libertarian politician, Paul has continued to receive favorable marks in the polls.

The Good: Ron Paul is still Ron Paul. His stances haven't changed and he knows exactly what he thinks on seemingly every issue imaginable. When asked about health care and mandated vaccinations, Paul cited his background as a doctor as reason for why he disagreed with Obamacare and government mandates.

Though some might disagree with the congressman, his logic is in line with his ideologies. For example, Paul pointed out that the United States spends some $20 billion a year on air-conditioning for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Take the air-conditioning out of the Green Zone and the troops would come back, and that would make me happy," he said during the debate.

The Bad: Paul's ideas still alienate many voters. His hope to transfer responsibility from Homeland Security to the commercial airliners for safety and security measures could sound like a decent option, but Paul didn't say what the airliners thought of that idea. At one point Paul had to defend against Perry's mention of a letter he wrote in the 1980s in which Paul said he might leave the Republican party because of former President Ronald Reagan's policies. Paul said he supported the message of Reagan, but not the results. A tough sell to the Republican base.

Grade: B+ Paul didn't surprise anyone with his responses and he performed with confidence. No questions left the congressman silent, and he certainly had few supporters on the stage with him.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Perry was hammered by the moderators and candidates alike, and yet he remained erect with a grin at the conclusion of the debates. It didn't hurt Perry to go in as the frontrunner, according to almost every major poll.

The Good: Perry has a long record as governor of Texas and he stood by each and every decision that people questioned at the debate. On capital punishment he said that he was confident that every convicted criminal that had been executed in the state deserved the fate. On his attempt to mandate human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations of female children, he admitted he went about the process incorrectly, but said the purpose was to protect them against cancer, which can result from the infection.

The Bad: Social Security. Perry continued to call it a Ponzi scheme and refused to give credence to any aspect of the program. He also turned a question about Texas' poor educational performance into a jobs answer. He claimed that the state's highest-in-the-nation employment numbers and attraction of major corporations meant that the education system had no problem to provide the finest work forces available.

Grade: B+ Perry was prepared and indefatigable. Like Paul, he used the debate to tout his record and reinforce his beliefs. He was targeted by every candidate on the stage and didn't seem to let it phase his game.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

Romney has done this before. The real question on many minds was how Romney would perform against Perry.

The Good: He announced on Tuesday a specific plan to back up his comments about the economy, taxes and jobs. He capitalized on Perry's controversial comments about Social Security and said that it was important to recognize that the United States needed to keep the program, but that he wanted to make it financially secure. He backed up Perry when the other candidates hounded the Texan's vaccination mandate. Romney said that the Texas governor's heart was in the right place, and that everyone has made mistakes. More than anyone, Romney relentlessly mentioned and blamed Obama for the country's woes. He spent less of his time criticizing the GOP nominees.

The Bad: In order to regain control in the GOP process, Romney must take on Perry. At times it seemed that every question to Romney went back to the economic plan he outlined on Tuesday. Which was fine, but it didn't help to fulfill a proper response to the specific question. When asked if he was a "card carrying" member of the Tea Party, Romney answered awkwardly and mustered up the self-control to say that if the Tea Party wanted to cut government spending then he would support them on that.

Grade: B+ Like Perry and Paul, Romney stuck by his policies and appeared prepared. Though major questions still surround his Massachusetts health care plan and his flip-flop mentality, it has been in the minds of voters for some four years now. So it isn't a surprise anymore.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum

Santorum claimed his fourth-place finish at the Iowa straw poll as a highlight in his campaign. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty who finished third in that poll, dropped out the next day, but Santorum has pushed forward.

The Good: Santorum received a national spotlight to relay his ideas. He said that a secure border and a strengthened immigration program were crucial to the country's immigration issues. He cited his experience in the United States Senate as a strength in understanding the federal government.

The Bad: Santorum had very little original content. His answers were void of detail and his demeanor and presence were forgettable. Though he was a senator, Santorum used very little about his experience in office to say why he would be a viable choice for voters.

Grade: D- This debate all but solidified Santorum's fate in the Republican race.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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