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The real battle for the GOP nomination is just beginning

Republicans Debate Romney Gingrich Paul Santorum

Students of a middle school in Fairfax County, Virginia, were given an assignment by their teacher to find weaknesses in each of the four GOP campaigns and research how to send the information to the Obama campaign. (AP)

On the stage tonight the voters of America got to see four men, one of who will be the alternative next fall to replace our unpopular president.

Former Speaker Gingrich in the first two minutes won two standing ovations and probably the debate by punching moderator John King's lights out for his inappropriate question about his former wife's allegations on another network.

Romney showed class by not getting into the issue. Santorum less so by making a moralistic, sanctimonious comment where he should have just taken a pass.

Gingrich went on to perform at his usual high level in debates. No one is more knowledgeable about government or has more ideas about how to change it. 

Romney had a good night and a solid performance. Romney, who the mainstream media has already inaugurated, has had a rough week starting with the Fox News Channel and Wall Street Journal debate on Monday night and losing Iowa this morning by the certified vote count. He had a far better night but again stumbled over the question of releasing his taxes. He was clearly trumped by Gingrich releasing his past tax statements online during the debate. But certainly did nothing to lose supporters in this debate.

Santorum described himself as steady and solid. That certainly describes his performance tonight, but he left out the word sanctimonious. It's that word and his overstating his role in everything that happened in Congress during his tenure, that makes him less likeable. People won't vote for you if they don't like you.

Congressman Paul was his usual entertaining self and his supporters love him and will vote for him no matter what. He was blessed by no questions on his out of the main stream foreign policy. He is a serious man with a great sense of humor.

I saw four knowledgeable men, each with different views and skills, but at this point I didn't see the 45th president.

Hopefully over time one will grow and we will find the leader we are all looking for. The process is just beginning and I believe these men will stay in much longer and make the process better. 

I miss Michele, Herman, Rick and Jon but we are now down to the final four. The real battle is just beginning and guess what? The voters now get to make the decision and that's what Democracy is all about.

This was a good debate and they all showed they know their stuff.

Ed Rollins is a Republican strategist and former campaign manager to Ronald Reagan

Edward J. Rollins is a Fox News contributor. He is a former assistant to President Reagan and he managed his reelection campaign. He is a senior presidential fellow at Hofstra University and a member of the Political Consultants Hall of Fame.