Santorum Blew It, Pundits Say
Mitt Romney edged win by putting Rick on defensive
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 23, 2012 5:40 AM CST
Updated Feb 23, 2012 7:41 AM CST
Santorum and Romney talk following a Republican presidential debate Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012, in Mesa, Ariz.   (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Nick Oza)

(Newser) – The GOP debate in Arizona was a huge opportunity for Rick Santorum to gain momentum ahead of crucial votes next week, but the consensus is that he blew it with a weak performance. A rundown of what the pundits are saying:

  • Santorum seemed "nervous, tired, and uncomfortable" in the spotlight, writes Maggie Haberman at Politico. He stumbled while discussing earmarks, and, worse, admitted voting for No Child Left Behind despite not believing in it—undermining his claim to be the most solid conservative in the race and practically writing Mitt Romney's attack ads for him.

  • It wasn't a good night for Santorum, agrees Jonathan Bernstein at the Washington Post. "He can’t seem to avoid getting bogged down in Senate-speak and unnecessary defenses of stuff that no one cares about." But the real losers, he decides, were GOP voters, "because their candidates are showing no ability to actually talk about things that would be central to their presidencies in any kind of substantive, realistic way."
  • Romney "won" by keeping Santorum on the defensive, writes Amy Walter at ABC, "but he didn’t make a strong case for himself or his own record. He didn’t put to rest concerns about his lack of a bigger, broader vision for November."
  • An upbeat Newt Gingrich had a reasonably good debate and "looked like the voice of reason after the endless earmarks battle, speaking clearly after Romney and Santorum babbled on interminably," writes Brian Montopoli at CBS. Ron Paul, meanwhile, had some strong moments and got in some fine hits on Santorum, but probably won't get much of a boost, he decides.
Click for more on last night's debate.