The Washington Times - June 14, 2011, 02:10PM

The big winner in Monday’s debate wasn’t even on the stage here at St. Anselm College.

At least that’s the take of the leaders of the Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest branches of the grassroots limited-government movement.


“The clear winner of the Republican debate last night was not a candidate, but was instead the tea party movement,” TPP co-founder Mark Meckler said in an email. “The issues and positions were defined by the movement, and the differences between the candidates were measured only in the degree of their adherence to tea party principles.”

Mr. Meckler also joined the chorus of onlookers who thought Rep. Michele Bachmann showed she’s ready for prime time.

“There really were no standouts, good or bad,” he said. ” It seemed that the person with the most to gain, Michele Bachmann, gained the most. This was her first debate appearance, and she seemed comfortable and in command of the issues. It was a solid introduction to the nation.”

Tea party groups have been reluctant to embrace — and in some cases, they outright oppose —  Mitt Romney, the nominal front runner in the race, thanks in large part to the universal health care plan he signed as governor as Massachusetts.

Since the two-hour debate the campaign spin machines have kicked into high gear, with all of them declaring victory.