GOP Debate won't move the needle for Romney

John McCain and Mitt Romney sparred over several issues last night but neither landed a telling blow on the other and both emerged relatively unscathed.

This is bad news for Romney who needed to score a big win over McCain in order to halt the Arizona senator's momentum so that he could get back into the race on Super Tuesday:

For 90 minutes, Romney and McCain sharply challenged each other's conservative credentials and ability to lead the country. But they generally remained civil, and each called the other "a fine man."

Romney tried to portray McCain, who performs well among political independents, as out of the conservative mainstream as the contest moves toward a cluster of states where only registered Republicans can vote. He said the Arizona senator twice voted against President Bush's tax cuts and pushed campaign finance reforms that restricted fundraising and spending. The Republican establishment embraced the tax cuts and opposed the new campaign law, which many saw as helpful to Democrats.

"Those views are outside the view of mainstream Republican thought," Romney said. He made similar arguments in Florida, but lost to McCain by 5 percentage points.

McCain disputed the claims. "I'm proud of my conservative record," he said
Romney completely ignored Mike Huckabee during the debate who is siphoning conservative votes away from Romney that he desperately needs in order to seriously challenge McCain in most Super Tuesday states.

For his part, Huckabee spent most of the night whining about his lack of media coverage and being slighted by the debate moderator Anderson Cooper of CNN.

Ron Paul was also part of the debate but Cooper made him virtually invisible by ignoring him for the most part and even cutting him off a couple of times.

It was Romney's night by most accounts. But simply winning wasn't good enough. He needed to punch and counterpunch McCain and barely laid a glove on him all night. With the dynamics of the race basically unchanged as a result of the debate, Romney appears to be nearly dead in the water while McCain continues to surge.