Thursday's debate was far more civilized that the previous two, but not without some tussles. Governor Rick Perry and Mitt Romney accused each other of flip-flopping on Social Security and health care and got mixed results.
When the GOP front runners did mix it up, it was over predictable areas and the back and forth wasn't nearly as tough as it has been. Two weeks ago, Governor Perry said the debate left him feeling like a pinata, but on Thursday he could have felt more like a backyard athlete.
"It's like badminton," Perry said in the debate.
His so-called badminton with Romney there over well-traveled ground on Social Security. In retiree-heavy Florida, Perry said Social Security is safe for retirees and near retirees, and that state-run employee programs are worth exploring.
"We never said that we're gonna move this back to states. What we said was we ought to have, as one of the options, the state employees and the state retirees, they being able to go off the current system onto one that the states operate themselves," Perry said.
Romney tried to get back to Perry's book Fed Up and claims Perry is running from statements in the book that Social Security its unconstitutional and a failure.
"So you better find that Rick Perry and tell him to stop saying that," Romney said. "My own view is that we have to make it very, very clear that Social Security is the responsibility of the federal government -- not the state governments -- and we're gonna have one plan and we're gonna make sure that it's fiscally sound and stable."
Just as it did a week ago, Perry's embrace of in-state tuition for undocumented students and opposition to a border wall upset both his opponents and the audience.
"That kind of magnet draws people into this country," Romney said.
But he stood by them.
"If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart," Perry said.
Perry nailed that but had a tough time with his attack lines against Romney on occasion.
Pundits will, no doubt, weigh in overnight. The addition of a ninth candidate -- former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson -- on stage divided time even more than previous debates.