Por Robert Novak:
Conservative voters hoping former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) would be a Reaganesque white knight were likely disappointed by Thompson's performance in his first debate. He took the safe route on nearly every answer, including endorsing the Bush Administration's current policies on Iraq and ethanol subsidies. Needing to distinguish himself, he didn't.
Two months out, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) maintains his leads in Iowa and New Hampshire polls, and one recent South Carolina poll showed Romney ahead. As other candidates begin to compete with Romney for paid media, will these leads evaporate?
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) has become perhaps the best performer in the field and was excellent in Tuesday's debate. But he still faces deep trouble on the right wing of the party.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) remains an odd phenomenon: He equaled Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in fundraising, he does very well in most straw polls and he draws the loudest applause at the presidential debates. His base is very motivated, and it is ideologically diverse. Still, he barely registers in polls. His limited-government message is far more consistent than that of the other candidates, who push ethanol and farm subsidies. His anti-nation-building stand could have broad appeal, but he wanders off into monetary policy and foreign policy tangents. The threat to the GOP: An independent Paul candidacy is all the more real after he refused to pledge support of the nominee.