As U.S. News 's Liz Halloran reported earlier today, the heated CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate last night proved particularly rough for Iowa caucus front-runner and former Gov. Mitt Romney, who was pushed repeatedly to clarify his stances on a number of fire-and-brimstone issues, like abortion.
His defensiveness showed. According to an (unscientific) U.S. News analysis of all eight candidates at the debate, Romney, over the course of the two-hour event, had the fastest average rate of speaking, as measured in words per minute.
Here's the tally, ranked in descending order from the night's fastest talker to the slowest (words per minute = wpm):
Mitt Romney: 233 wpm
Tom Tancredo: 226 wpm
Rudy Giuliani: 201 wpm
Mike Huckabee: 199 wpm
Duncan Hunter: 188 wpm
John McCain: 182 wpm
Ron Paul: 179 wpm
Fred Thompson: 177 wpm
To be fair, Romney was also the fastest talker at the October 21 debate in Orlando, with an average that night of 205 wpm (nearly 30 words per minute slower). That finding alone might be surprising, given Giuliani's reputation as a fast- and tough-talking New Yorker.
More tellingly, though, is the observation that Romney couldn't keep calm last night when faced with accusatory remarks. By our analysis, there was a clear statistical difference between Romney's rate of speaking when he was on the attack and in control of his answers, and, conversely, when he was fending off an attack himself. In the latter cases, his wpm spiked. For instance:
* Accused by Giuliani of hiring illegal immigrants at his mansion, Romney responded with apparent disbelief—"Are you suggesting, Mr. Mayor—because I think it is really kind of offensive..."—and covered a sizable 105 words in 25 seconds, for a rate of 250 wpm, above his average for the night.
* Forced to respond to a video of a younger Mitt Romney expressing support for abortion rights, Romney quickly pumped out 190 words in just over 45 seconds, a rate of 247 wpm.
* Pressed to explain his views on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, Romney, with visible frustration, ramped all the way up to 325 wpm to deliver this blitz of a line: "I look forward to hearing from the military exactly what they believe is the right way to have the right kind of cohesion and support in our troops and I listen to what they have to say."