1) Ohio Gov. John Kasich: He set the Internet buzzing with his common-man, common-sense pitches, weaving in family stories while introducing his economic record in Ohio to a national audience.
2) Donald Trump: The media was waiting for him to implode, but he owned the stage when it was his time and made a case for being in the Top 10 by not suffering a fatal mistake. And he continued to tap the American outrage at the ruling political class while maintaining his entertainment value. But there’s a danger his bombastic style and his refusal to support a GOP nominee may hurt him in the polls.
3) Carly Fiorina: She stood head and shoulders above the rest of the field in the pre-debate debate. She sounded and looked presidential while repeatedly hitting the buttons of the conservative base.
4) New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: He sounded like an executive ready for the job while rebutting some of the claims he’s too liberal to win the GOP nomination. He also scored some serious points in attacking Rand Paul.
5) The Fox News moderators: They asked hard-hitting questions while maintaining control of a debate with some big egos.
HELD THEIR OWN WHILE TREADING WATER
1) Sen. Marco Rubio: He effectively challenged Hillary Rodham Clinton’s record while emphasizing his humble beginnings, though he didn’t do enough to break into the top contenders yet.
2) Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush: Despite a few shaky moments, he sounded and looked presidential and effectively addressed some of the criticisms conservatives have levied against him with his answers on education and the Bush dynasty.
3) Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: He flashed his appeal to security and social conservatives and cemented himself as a common-sense, Harley-driving Midwesterners. But he had trouble standing out against larger personalities.
4) Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: He had some good zingers and laughs with a polished performance, but at times felt more like a radio talk show host than a presidential contender.
5) Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry: Made good use of his record as chief executive and experience.
6) Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: Didn’t always connect with the audience through the TV screen but used his record effectively on how he has applied conservative ideas into real policies.
7) Ben Carson: He came across as an eloquent, thoughtful anti-politician, but did not score any winning punches and at times seemed too deferential. But he finished strong with one of the best closing statements.
DIDN’T HELP THEMSELVES
1) Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: Too many stump lines and too little effort to hit the likability factors.
2) Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore: Didn’t distinguish himself.
3) Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania: Felt like he was just going through the motions.
4) Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: Was strong on national security issues but sounded like a one-note Johnny.
5) Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky: Took too many incoming hits, including from Mr. Christie and Mr. Trump. Wasn’t on his game, yelling answers.
6) Former New York Gov. George Pataki: Stiff and no memorable moments.