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The 'testy' GOP debate in Las Vegas: 4 key takeaways

Rick Perry comes out swinging, Mitt Romney nearly loses his cool, and Herman Cain has a target on his back. Welcome to the latest 2012 showdown

"Talk about a fall classic," says Maggie Haberman at Politico. The Republican presidential hopefuls' "fireworks-filled debate" in Las Vegas on Tuesday night was the most entertaining of the five high-stakes face-offs held since Labor Day, and should hold voters over until the next debate in November. Here, four big takeaways from the "testy" CNN-sponsored debate:

1. Mitt Romney won... againTuesday's debate may have been feistier than the others, but it "had the same winner as the previous four," says Taegan Goddard at Political Wire. The former Massachusetts governor looked like the only person onstage who truly understands the wide range of issues a president faces. Sure, "Romney took heavy fire from nearly everyone" in Vegas, "but his rivals usually did more harm to themselves" than him. He even "showed flashes of the passion that has been so conspicuously missing from his campaign," says Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast. "Las Vegas should adjust its betting odds: Romney just moved one step closer to the nomination."

2. Rick Perry was in a fighting moodAfter "several dull and uninspired debate performances," the Texas governor obviously decided he would "come out with both barrels blazing" in Vegas, says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. "And, boy did he" — but with mixed results. Perry scored a big hit with a "decidedly personal" attack on Romney for reportedly hiring illegal immigrants to take care of his yard. But when Romney parried the attack, Perry "looked like he wanted to land a big haymaker upside Mitt's head," says James Fallows at The Atlantic. And the Texan really lost his cool when Romney put his hand on Perry's shoulder, in "an unusual and no doubt infuriating 'now, now, little man' gesture." Well, at least Perry got his ritual "brain freezes down to maybe two or three seconds," says Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.

3. Herman Cain blew it"No one rode into the debate with higher expectations than Cain," says Politico's Haberman, "and it's safe to say he fell short of them." For the first 20 minutes, all the other candidates shot holes in Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan, says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. And "once Cain's credibility is shot on the plan that is virtually his entire message, it is unclear how he can sustain his appeal." Cain also made a "disastrous" and "excruciating" walkback regarding an earlier assertion that he'd free every Guantanamo Bay detainee if it meant saving a single American soldier, says Thomas Lane at Talking Points Memo. "If I said that I spoke in error," Cain said after the debate. "Maybe I didn't understand the question."

4. Anderson Cooper was a great moderatorRick Santorum and Newt Gingrich also had good nights, but "the clear winner in the contest may have been moderator Anderson Cooper," says The Washington Post's Rubin. He "avoided dumb questions and kept the debate lively but under control (barely)," and "his questions were actual questions." Cooper also deserves a ton of credit for "knowing when to step back and let the likes of Perry and Romney simply go at it," says The Post's Cillizza. "Job well done."

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