So why did no one bother to take on Romney Saturday night, in what might have been their best opportunity to do so before the New Hampshire primary Tuesday?
Congressman Paul's national campaign chairman might have said it best: “Mitt Romney’s not fishing from the same pond as us," Jesse Benton told Politico. "We’re fighting to consolidate ourselves as the lone Romney alternative, the anti-Romney.… We’re the only candidate with the fundraising base, and we’re the only candidate with a national organization, and right now, I think we’re starting to show that we’re the only candidate with the election results to be able to do that.”
The fact is, the field seems to have come to the conclusion that Romney is untouchable in New Hampshire. He leads Paul by 22 points (39 percent to 17 percent) in the most recent poll by Suffolk University, with former Sen. Rick Santorum a distant third at 9 percent.
That dynamic has made the race a battle for second place. “Whoever comes out of New Hampshire No. 2 will be able to call it a victory, because Romney is running against his own expectations,” Wayne L’Esperance, a political scientist at New England College in Henniker, N.H., told the Monitor's Gail Russell Chaddock Saturday.
The most incisive moments of Saturday's debate came as Paul took his blowtorch to Gingrich and Mr. Santorum – his top rivals for the No. 2 slot both here and beyond.
First, he cast Santorum as a "big spending Republican" who could hardly lay claim to the title conservative, citing Santorum's decision to vote for increases in the debt limit during his time in Congress. Santorum parried well, saying that "conservative" was not synonymous with "libertarian" and raising questions about the credentials of an organization that labeled him "corrupt."