Manchester, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Seven Republican candidates faced off on Monday in the first debate in New Hampshire, which holds the first primary of the 2012 election.
Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum addressed issues ranging from the debt ceiling to abortion rights.
Front-runner Romney was expected to be a target of the other debaters, seeking to bring him back closer to the pack, most of who trail him by double digits in most polls.
Here's how CNN's analysts and contributors saw the debate:
Cornell Belcher, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor
On Pawlenty, who had been critical of Romney the day before on his health care reform plan while governor of Massachusetts but backed away from the opportunity to continue his criticism during the debate:
"I think the Pawlenty thing was a big deal because of this: As much as we don't like -- we say we don't like negative campaigns, the truth of the matter is, if someone occupies the space that you want to occupy, and they're ahead of you, I'm sorry, you have got to make that person -- you got to cut that person and make them bleed.
"Now, do you take a hatchet to him the first-night debate? No. But you have to make them bleed because you are never going to get ahead of that person unless you cut them and you make them bleed.
"Pawlenty was served up an opportunity to sort of start that bleeding tonight, and he looked punk. He could not back up what he has said aside when he was standing on the stage with Romney. He looked tentative and he looked weak. I think he missed a prime opportunity to make this guy bleed."
Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst
On Bachmann, who announced during the debate that she had filed the necessary papers to run for president:
"I think she sort of stepped out of Sarah Palin's shadow tonight. She was clearly one of the best-prepped candidates here. She let people know the depth of her experience on the intelligence committee, for example.
"She spoke very succinctly. And she was positive and, you know, there wasn't a lot of sort of smiling, laughter, uplifting kind of statements coming out of this debate. And I think she was sort of the positive candidate coming out of this. So I think she did very, very well for herself."
David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst
On winners and losers in the debate and on Gingrich, who last week saw most of his senior advisers desert his campaign:
"I did think there were three winners tonight: Romney, who helped himself the most. Gingrich, who remained in the race.
"But Michele Bachmann, I thought, was the biggest surprise, because she was -- I don't think the country knew her well. She was pithy. She spoke in a much more cleaner sentences. She sprinkled interesting facts into it. And she introduced her biography. The 23 foster children, she said that twice."
Dana Loesch, Tea Party activist and CNN contributor
On the debate's best performances:
"I think Michele Bachmann did incredibly well this debate, and I think that this was the first time that even people who are grassroots conservatives, people who are very familiar with her, who have been seeing her across the country at different events, this was the first time that they've been able to see her in this setting, actually going up against other people who are also trying to claim that same super-conservative mantel.
"So it was -- it was -- I think she performed very well. I think she answered very well. She really held her own, and I think that this was a very good debate for her, and she was one of the individuals, I think Romney and Gingrich were others, that came out on top.