Last night’s event in Sioux City was the last of three debates the Iowa Republican Party has co-sponsored this year. The first, which aired on FOX, was held in Ames just before the Straw Poll. The second, last Saturday in Des Moines, was broadcast on ABC. Last night’s event, staged in Sioux City, was televised nationally by FOX. 

“It gave the candidates a chance to interact with a part of the state that has a very energized electorate,” says Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn. “And I think Iowa Republicans have some very tough decisions to make.”

Strawn’s evaluation of last night’s debate: the candidates were able to stress their strengths.

“I think you saw that with Congresswoman Bachmann and Dr. Paul on a discussion about foreign policy related to Iran…Governor Romney’s experience in the private sector…Speaker Gingrich’s experience as speaker…Rick Santorum talking about his local knowledge he’s gained traveling the state,” Strawn says, “you know, visiting 99 counties,” Strawn says. 

Craig Robinson, owner of the for-profit website, worked on the Steve Forbes campaign in 2000.

“You know, obviously, it feels like the Caucuses are around the corner,” Robinson says, “and I think (the candidates) felt the need to be a little bit more aggressive or defend themselves a little bit more clearly.”

Mitt Romney went to Missouri Valley Steel in Sioux City this morning to meet with employees and supporters. The residents of Cherokee and Storm Lake can see two presidential candidates today as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are both stopping in those cities as part of their last-dash bus tours. Rick Santorum will speak tonight at a house party in Sioux City and Ron Paul will appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

(Additional reporting in Sioux City by Woody Gottburg of KSCJ Radio.)