Romney takes all in Las Vegas?

Mitt Romney (L) and Rick Perry debate in Las Vegas on 18 October 2011 Image copyright Getty Images

Plenty of people have left Vegas broken after a huge gamble, perhaps a smaller number as clear-cut winners. After the Republican debate, did any of the candidates lose their shirt?

Remember, at the moment, this contest isn't about breaking the bank; it's about earning more chips. It's about coming second.

Candidates have surged in the polls, and fallen back. The one who has stayed in either first or second place all the time is Mitt Romney. The conservatives of the Tea Party don't like him; many other Republicans are uninspired by him.

If one other candidate emerges as the anti-Mitt, the clear challenger to orthodoxy, Romney could lose. If they stay as a roughly equal pack nipping at his heels, he will probably win.

At the moment Cain is the one Conservatives are pinning their hopes on. It started with just about everyone else ganging up on Herman Cain over his tax plans, particularly the introduction of a 9% sales tax.

He stood up well, didn't back away from it, but had to fall back on simply denying that many people would pay more. Economists seem to disagree.

Everyone wants to take on Mitt but no-one can beat him. Romney comes on strong, holding his attackers close and thudding into them relentlessly. He forced Gingrich to back down over allegations about healthcare, roughed up Santorum, and gave Cain something of a beating.

But it was Perry that he may have bruised the most. Perry claimed that Romney had hired illegal immigrants and had not told the American people the truth about it. Perry over-stretched himself by this accusation and the audience didn't like it. He was hesitant from time to time and this performance isn't going to help him at all.

Santorum, who had been edged out in previous debates, made something of a comeback, banging the drum for faith and family. I expect him to do a bit better in the polls. Mind you, that wouldn't be hard.

Michele Bachmann seemed to stand slightly apart from the scrapping and made strong, if slightly rehearsed, points. Ron Paul was feisty and as ever uncompromising in clearly explaining his beliefs. But he's too coherently libertarian for the average Republican voter.

There's no real doubt that Romney won this debate. But there's a big question mark about who came second. If Cain comes unstuck, it will be because of his plans, not his performance. That in itself is good news for Mitt.

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