Rick Santorum earned poor marks for his debate performance Wednesday. The evening debate hosted by CNN was his first as the Republican presidential front-runner.
The former Pennsylvania senator needed a strong debate performance to hold onto his momentum heading into the next few contests — notably, the Michigan and Arizona primaries next Tuesday — but Santorum got bogged down under the attacks of his opponents.
He was forced to defend his 2004 support for then Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, saying that he did so because Specter had promised to support conservative nominees to the Supreme Court from his position on the Senate Judicial Committee. Specter remains unpopular for having switched to the Democratic Party in 2008.
In another unspectacular moment, Santorum admitted to having made a mistake by voting for No Child Left Behind, but explained that as a member of Congress, he had had to “take one for the team.” The comment played right into the Romney campaign’s continued efforts to paint Santorum as a Washington insider.
Santorum also ended up on his heels defending his use of earmarks while in Congress, again playing into an oft-used attack on him by the Romney campaign.
Commentators gave Santorum poor marks.
“Gingrich looked better than Santorum, which is bad for Santorum. This was the first opportunity to evaluate Santorum as the new potential president and he didn’t look presidential,” said Charlie Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center. “Not fatal but a huge missed opportunity. He could have taken off. Instead he slipped back. On the other hand the debate didn’t change any dynamic and the status quo is better for Santorum than Romney.”
CONTINUED at The Daily Caller.