Acknowledging first that it's a little dicey to read too much into a debate so early in the process, Nate Silver ventures that last night's GOP forum might hurt the 2012 prospects of Sarah Palin and help those of Rick Perry, neither of whom took part. For Palin, the rising fortunes of Michele Bachmann could be trouble. Bachmann is "considerably sharper on her feet" than Palin and has a great family story (23 foster kids) and "better favorability ratings," writes Silver at his FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times. "Rather than being a proxy for Ms. Palin, Ms. Bachmann may instead be preferred to her in the eyes of Republican voters."
Perry, on the other hand, might get a boost by the perceived weak performance of Tim Pawlenty. Currently, Pawlenty is best suited to fill William F. Buckley's dictum to "nominate the most conservative candidate who is electable," writes Silver. But if he fades, Perry qualifies. "Republican elites may be wondering whether (Pawlenty) will 'click' with voters and whether he is fact up to the task of taking on Mr. Romney and fulfilling Mr. Buckley’s rule," writes Silver. "If Mr. Perry can instead play the role of 'generic Republican'—only with better hair and more fundraising prowess—their support could shift toward him." (Read more Republican debate stories.)