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GOP debate, round 4: The night's best salesman, gadfly and overall performance


Tonight’s GOP debate scorecard:

Loser: Rick Perry -- again. The Texan plummeted in polls after uncertain performances in earlier debates; he needed to land some punches and, more important, sound more like a president than a governor. He failed on both counts. Asked to outline his economic plan at a long-scheduled debate over economic policy, he promised a little lamely to unveil something in the next few days. What, the dog ate his homework?

Winner: Mitt Romney -- again. Many conservatives don’t love the former Massachusetts governor and probably never will. But he sure knows how to take a question and turn it in the direction he wants. And he’s getting pretty good at the Ronald Reagan gambit: sounding conservative without frightening voters in the center. Obama won’t enjoy running against him one bit.

Best salesman: Herman Cain. He seized every opportunity to tout his 9-9-9 plan (and as you surely know by now, that means a 9% income tax, a 9% corporate tax and a 9% sales tax).  Does the plan make sense? Not really. But as Cain pointed out, it’s a lot easier to remember than Romney’s 59-point blueprint.

Sharpest gadfly: Newt Gingrich. He can’t run a presidential campaign, but he’s a wickedly effective polemicist. His Fox News contract, suspended for now, beckons.

Best overall performances: Panelists Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post and Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg News. They asked tough, smart questions that put all the front-runners -- Romney, Perry and Cain -- on the defensive. Some partisans will complain, but it’s exactly what panelists are supposed to do. As Harry Truman said: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.


Live coverage: GOP debate at Dartmouth College

GOP debate, round 3: It's Romney's night, not Perry's

GOP debate, round 2: The night's winner, loser, survivor and comeback

GOP debate, round 1: Biggest winner, loser and missed opportunity

--Doyle McManus

Photo: Republican presidential candidates and journalists gather before a presidential debate sponsored by Bloomberg and the Washington Post held at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday. Jon Huntsman, left; Michele Bachmann; Rick Perry; Julianna Goldman; Herman Cain; Karen Tumulty; Mitt Romney; Charlie Rose; Ron Paul; Newt Gingrich; Rick Santorum. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg 


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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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