First . . . credit CNN for pioneering the YouTube format. It certainly makes for fun political television.
Some of the people asking the questions seemed sinister, or programmed or just plain creepy -- but hey, those are the people on YouTube.
The crowd at the debate was engaged -- loud and raucous at times, which was annoying for the moderator -- but fun for the rest of us.
The stage was set for a feisty debate -- and we got one. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney went at each other for so long over immigration to kick off the debate, Rudy eventually got booed for refusing to quit talking.
Welcome to what is a wide open Republican field -- and the candidates know it.
Here's my wrap of high and lowlights:
*Fred Thompson takes a hard swipe at Giuliani's association with Bernard Kerik. "I think we've all had people we've hired, that in retrospect was a bad decision," Thompson jabbed. Thompson seemed more aggressive and on the attack during this debate than ever before. His 30-second YouTube ad was a direct attack on rivals Romney and Huckabee and apparently even caught the dapper Anderson Cooper off guard. "Lazy, like a fox," Thompson knows he must make some kind of move now or his candidacy is dead in the water.
*McCain's position on immigration was measured yet strong on specifics. Unlike Giuliani and Romney, McCain talked about dealing with the future of immigration -- not with whether or not New York and Massachusetts were "sanctuaries" for illegals. Tancredo takes credit for moving the debate.
*Huckabee's best line? "We're a better country than to punish children for what their parents did," Huckabee responded to Romney during the debate over providing taxpayer dollars to the children of illegal immigrants. Romney's best jab? "It's not your money Mike, it's the taxpayers money."
*Another nice Huckabee line: "Most people in this country are more afraid of an audit than a mugging and there's a reason why," Huckabee said, in explaining why he'd eliminate the I.R.S.
*Ron Paul rejects being called an isolationist. John McCain said Paul's type of isolationism caused World War II. Paul called the characterization unfair. He said he's non-interventionist, not an isolationist.
*Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, wants a "No New Taxes Pledge." Hmm . . . how'd that turn out for Bush I? They all bowed to Grover --- except Thompson, McCain and Duncan Hunter. But credit Hunter for this: He wouldn't rule out raising taxes. You could have a national emergency. Sounds reasonable right? Why isn't completely ruling out raising taxes treated like ruling out military force?
*Romney on abortion, finally said something almost candid. "I was wrong . . . If people in this country are looking for someone who's never made a mistake on a policy issue and is not willing to admit their ever wrong, then they're going to have to find somebody else."
*Giuliani gets booed on his gun control answer. Then a questioner wants to know about the candidates' gun collections. Turns out Giuliani and McCain don't have guns in their homes. Romney raises his hand to volunteer information on his guns. "I have two guns in my home, they are owned by my son Josh," Romney said. Awkward.
*If Roe vs. Wade was overturned and Congress passed a ban on abortion Rudy said he would "probably not sign" that bill. Giuliani said he also didn't believe "every word" in the Bible literally. Romney seemed to struggle with this question. Repeating his answer and talking fast and nervous. "I believe the Bible is the word of God . . . I don't disagree with the Bible." Being a minster, Huckabee, of course, hit this one out of the park.
*Just watching Rudy and Romney's 30-second videos tells you how different they are. Romney's 30-second ad was serious, slick and maybe, trying to hard for a YouTube commercial. Giuliani had fun with it, drawing attention to his accomplishments, but in light-hearted, fun way. It's all about that subtle mix of likability with a spice of substance.
*Would you want to debate the merits of water-boarding and torture with John McCain? I wouldn't. Romney did, and . . well . . .
Huck did well for himself tonight. Good balance of funny lines with principled "presidential" answers. He might have stood out even more because Romney and Rudy's attacks against each other got lost in the tussle. Romney seemed much better early than late. Giuliani seemed to give honest answers to tough social questions, but is that good enough? Thompson aired the first attack ad of the campaign through his YouTube piece. Is it just me, or it Thompson's candidacy shrinking swiftly?