By AMY WALTER, ABC News Political Director
(SIOUX CITY, Iowa) — Just 19 days before the Iowa caucuses, the seven GOP candidates met in Sioux City, Iowa for their 13th debate of the year.
Mitt Romney was one of the winners of this debate. He was cool, calm and collected, without any $10,00 bets or “reach out and touch someone” moments.
And, while Romney has been relentlessly attacking Newt Gingrich on the trail this week, he was nothing but nice to Newt all night on stage, a sign, perhaps, of the Romney campaign’s confidence that the barrage of anti-Gingrich ads and increased media scrutiny has already taken its toll on Gingrich’s standing in the polls.
And, if Gingrich voters are looking for an alternative, Romney wants to welcome them in with open arms.
Instead, Romney spent most of his time in general election mode, going after Obama instead of his GOP opponents.
Michele Bachmann also had a strong performance. As she did in last week’s debate, Bachmann came out swinging. And it was Newt Gingrich who felt her fury, as she challenged him on issues ranging from his consultancy work for Freddie Mac to his record on abortion.
At the very least, she did outflank and outperform Perry and Santorum, the two other GOPers on stage competing with her for the social conservative vote.
Ron Paul was energized, engaged and articulate and he both looked and acted like a frontrunner. This was probably his best performance yet.
The same cannot be said for Rick Perry, however. He didn’t flub anything, but he didn’t do anything of note either.
Newt Gingrich was the man in the middle, literally and figuratively. He took the most oncoming fire, both from the moderators and a couple of his opponents. He didn’t stumble in any of his answers, but, like Perry, he didn’t shine either. Newt will need much energy and enthusiasm behind him for the next 19 days if he wants to keep the support coming on strong.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
Eliott C. McLaughlin and Joshua Berlinger, CNN
Roshni Majumdar and Deborah Bloom, CNN Newswire